Posts Tagged ‘Steenbergs spices’

Delicious (Though I Say It Myself) Orange And Earl Grey Cake

Saturday, February 25th, 2012
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Some Recipe Ideas For Laura Santtini’s Alchemical Larder Ingredients

Friday, February 17th, 2012

I have been asked by several people to give some starting ideas for the various goodies within Laura Santtini’s Alchemical Larder box that we provide to Fortnum & Mason, Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Selfridges amongst others.  So while there is a small card insert in the boxes, it does not contain any recipes.  Here are a few ideas and if anyone has there own suggestions please insert them into the comments section below.  It’s a bit of a list, so many apologies for that.

Easy Tasty Magic chicken breasts

Serves 4

4 boneless chicken breasts
2 tbsp olive oil
1tsp East Tasty Magic rubs – any of Carnal Sin, International Jerk or White Mischief

Pre-heat oven to 180oC/ 350oF.

Place the chicken breasts onto a baking dish.   Brush with the olive oil.

Sprinkle over the seasoned salt and thyme and rub into the breasts.

Bake for 30 minutes until juice of chicken is clear when thickest part is cut.

Carnal Sin beef fillet

Serves 4-6

1.25kg beef fillet, rolled and tied
125ml red wine
2 sprigs of fresh thyme, or 1 tsp of dried thyme
1tbsp Carnal Sin rub
2 red onions, cut into 6 wedges
2 heads of garlic, cut across 1 cm from the top
Olive oil
Salt of the Earth and freshly ground black pepper

For the horseradish cream sauce:

6tbsp crème fraîche
2tbsp mascarpone
2tbsp horseradish (fresh or bottled or dried)
1tsp dried rose petals
Pinch of yellow mustard powder

Spread the onion wedges and garlic heads in the bottom of a roasting tin, douse with olive oil and season with Salt of the Earth and ground black pepper.

Remove the leaves from thyme and chop finely, then mix into the Carnal Sin rub and add enough water to make into a paste – around 1tbsp water.  Pat the fillet dry with some kitchen paper and massage all over with the Carnal Sin rub paste.  Place onto the onions and garlic in the roasting pan and leave to infuse the flavours at room temperature for ½ an hour, or in the fridge overnight.

While the beef fillet is marinading, make the cream sauce by mixing all the ingredients together, adjusting the seasoning as you see fit, then bung into the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 200oC/400oF.  If the beef is in the fridge, take out to return to room temperature while the oven is warming up.

Place the beef fillet into the centre of the oven and cook for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, pour over the red wine and return to the oven.  Cook for a further 30 minutes, or longer if you prefer it medium.  Leave to stand in a warm place for 10 minutes before carving and serving.

While the beef is resting, put the roasting tin onto the hob.  Heat the onion mixture, deglazing the pan with some more red wine and season to taste.

Carve into chunky slices of about ½ cm thick and serve with the red wine gravy and the horseradish cream sauce.

Spicy parsnips Dauphinoise

Serves 4

750g large parsnips (about 3), sliced thinly
425ml double cream
250ml vegetable stock
2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
½tsp grains of paradise, coarsely ground
¼tsp white peppercorns, coarsely ground
Freshly grated nutmeg – 2 larger pinches
Sea salt, to taste

Preheat the oven to 200oC/400oF.

Place the sliced parsnips into a steamer.  Steam over boiling water until just tender, which takes 4 – 5 minutes.

Lightly grease or butter an ovenproof dish, then arrange and layer the parsnips in it.

Heat the cream and vegetable stock into a heavy bottomed saucepan.  When warmed, add the garlic and season with spices and sea salt.  Stir and remove from heat just before it boils, as small bubbles start to form on the edge of the sauce.

Pour the sauce onto the parsnips, cover the dish with foil and bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes.  Take off the aluminium foil and bake for another 20 minutes.

Season the top with a sprinkling of freshly grated nutmeg.

Smoked paprika potatoes

Serves 6

1kg good potatoes, sliced medium thick
150ml soured cream
300ml vegetable stock
1 medium onion, sliced thinly, then chopped into small pieces
2tsp (level) smoked paprika
30g butter
4 tomatoes, peeled and chopped

Preheat the oven to 200oC/400oF.

Place the sliced potatoes into a steamer.  Steam over boiling water until just tender, which takes about 5 minutes.  Lightly grease or butter an ovenproof dish, then arrange and layer the potatoes in it.

While the potatoes are steaming, melt the butter in a pan and cook the onion until translucent and soft.  Stir in the smoked paprika and cook for a further 2 minutes, then add in the soured cream and season with sea salt.  Add the vegetable stock and stir together and bring to boiling point, and remove from heat

Pour the tomato sauce over the potatoes, cover the dish with foil and bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes.  Take off the aluminium foil and bake for another 20 minutes.

Pink peppercorn poached salmon

For the poaching stock:

250ml rosé wine
125ml water
4 slices of lemon
1 carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
1tsp white peppercorns (whole)
1 blade mace
½ vanilla pod, sliced down centre (optional)

For the wild salmon:

1tbsp sunflower oil
25g finely chopped shallots
4 salmon fillets
¼tsp Salt of the Earth
¼tsp coarsely milled black pepper
100ml double cream
1tbsp pink peppercorns, lightly crushed

Put all the ingredients for the poaching stock in a pot and bring to the boil with the lid on the pot.  When it starts boiling, reduce the heat and leave to simmer gently for 30 minutes with the lid on, so letting all the flavours infuse into the stock.

Pre-heat the oven to 100oC/ 210oF and put a plate or serving dish in the oven to warm up for later.

Lightly oil a heavy bottomed, metal casserole dish and then sprinkle the chopped shallots over the base of the pan.  Place the salmon fillets on top of this and then season with some sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper.  Gently pour in the poaching stock (or rosé wine plus lemon slices) half way up the fillets, reserving any of the excess stock for later.  Put the lid onto the casserole dish and gently poach in the stock for 8 – 10 minutes, depending on the size of the salmon, but try not to overcook.  Lift out the poached salmon and place on a warm plate, cover in foil and keep warm in the pre-heated oven.

Pour the juices into a clean pan through a sieve to remove the bits and add any of the excess stock reserved earlier.  Bring to the boil and reduce the liquid to about 150ml.  Add the cream and simmer until the sauce starts to thicken a little.  Add the crushed pink peppercorns.  Check and adjust the seasoning, if necessary, but do not add black pepper under any circumstances as it will ruin the effect.  Sprinkle over with another pinch of Salt of the Earth.

Serve on warmed plates.  Firstly, arrange the salmon fillets onto the plates, then pour over the sauce.  Serve with new potatoes, fresh green vegetables or salad – perhaps a watercress salad.

Spicy tomatoes

900g ripe tomatoes, peeled and deseeded then chopped
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1tsp organic cumin seeds, dry roasted
1tsp sumach
½tsp paprika
½tsp black pepper, coarsely ground
½tsp Salt of the Earth, or more to taste
2tbsp sunflower oil
1tbsp extra virgin olive oil

In a heavy casserole dish, heat the oil then sauté the garlic until translucent.

Add the tomatoes and cook over a medium heat for 10 minutes.

Stir in the black pepper, sumach, cumin seeds and salt and simmer for 5 minutes.

Serve and eat with couscous, or allow to cool and serve with pitta bread or toast as an appetizer.

A Little Bit About Myrrh

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

I wrote some time back about gold and frankincense, so to complete the trio, here are some notes on myrrh.

Some religion

“Moreover the Lord spake unto Moses saying, take thou also unto thee principal spices, of pure myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet cinnamon half so much, even two hundred and fifty shekels, and of sweet calamus two hundred and fifty shekels, and of cassia five hundred shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary, and of oil an hin: and thou shalt make it an oil of holy ointment, an ointment compound after the art of the apothecary: it shall be an holy anointing oil.” Exodus 30: 22-25

“And when the wise men were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” St. Matthew 2: 11

“And they gave him to drink wine mingled with myrrh: but he received it not.”* St. Mark 15: 23

“And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred weight.  Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.” St. John 19: 39-32

[Note: there any references to myrrh in the Bible but not in the Koran, but can it be found in other religious texts? Should someone know, I would like to include other examples]

The gifts given to Christ by the Magi are symbols for his life, being gold for royalty, frankincense for holiness and myrrh for suffering.  Even today the first two still are symbols for power and religion, but myrrh is much less well known now yet is used to a very limited in medicines.  But what is myrrh?

Some details

There are a few myrrh-type oleo-gum-resins produced in Arabia and Somalia from the Commiphora genus, all of which were probably lumped together as myrrh in ancient times and still are used to adulterate modern day myrrh.  C. myrrha is the chief source of myrrh today, while C. erythraea was probably the “ntyw” (myrrh) of the ancient Egyptians and the “scented myrrh” of Pliny.

Commiphora species are native trees of northeast tropical Africa in the region from Somalia to Egypt.  The myrrh trees form dwarfish thickets often with Acacia and Euphorbia.  And from a trade perspective, myrrh is mainly shipped through Aden, Djibouti, Massau and Port Sudan.

Common myrrh (C. myrrha) is a large shrub that grows to about 9ft.  Its branches are knotted with branchlets that are pointed and perpendicular to the main branches.  The trifoliate leaves are small and scanty, and are shed in the dry season.  It has whitish-gray bark that is filled with the myrrh oleo-gum-resin reservoirs, which is then collected by incisions of around 10cm (5 inches) being cut into the bark in much the same way as frankincense and rubber are tapped from other trees.

Myrrh Trees

Myrrh Trees

Myrrh Resin Tears On Myrrh Tree

Myrrh Resin Tears On Myrrh Tree

As the resin comes into contact with the air, it hardens into “tears”. Myrrh is a natural resin comprising: 3-8% essential oil, 30-60% water-soluble gum and 25-40% alcohol-soluble resins.  Myrrh has a reddish-brown colour, is hard to touch and has little aroma, but a mildy woody balsamic base note.  Myrrh burns readily with little smoke and gives off a white and pleasantly pungent aroma that is not as heady as frankincense.

Myrrh Tears

Myrrh Tears

Some ancient and modern business information

Myrrh has been used for incense and embalming since ancient times, with ancient Egypt importing large quantities as far back as 2500BCE.  Based on Pliny, myrrh comes from the western and west-central areas of South Arabia and in coastal Somaliland.  Per Pliny, the total production of myrrh in ancient times was approximately 450-600 tons per annum.  Pliny also states that the trees were incised twice every year to tap the myrrh resin, as well as mentioning that there were several kinds of myrrh with a wide range of prices from 3 – 50 denars a pound.

Much has been written about the trade routes for both frankincense and myrrh, however the detail is pretty much that these resins tapped into the general trading routes for general goods such as fish & pottery, and more exotic goods such as pearls (Oman), silks (China) and spices (India).  So after a land route to the major ports of Arabia, they went by sea to other major ports throughout Africa, Arabia and India then into the Mediterranean and by land to those places that could not be reached initially by sea.  These routes were intertwined and complex, so for example in ancient times, along these trade routes, cinnamon could move from Sri Lanka to Egypt to appease the gods after the death of Rameses III, and later throughout Arabia and the Mediterranean per Pliny with Petra at the centre of a global supply chain that stored and then distributed incense, silks and spices to feed demand from the Greek and Roman elite for luxury goods.

The aroma of myrrh is exotic, warm-balsamic and sweet and when fresh spicy-aromatic, sharp and pungent.  As such, myrrh is used by perfumiers as a flavour in Oriental-spicy perfumes and for woody bases, forest notes and pine fragrances.  Myrrh blends really well with geranium, musk, patchouli and woody spices and some strong floral bases such as rose.  For example, myrrh is used in branded perfumes like Fidji by Guy Laroche, KL by Karl Lagerfeld, Le Jardin by Max Factor and Gianni Versace by Charles of the Ritz.  In ancient times, myrrh was used as a base for perfumes that were used by royalty, so for example it was used as a fragrance (Song of Solomon 1:13, 5:5; Esther 2:12) and in Egypt by Hatshepsut, as well as gifts to Amenhotep and Akhnaton.

While myrrh defeated the inventive Heston Blumenthal in his “Perfect Christmas” programme, it is used in some products as a flavouring, for example toothpastes, mouthwashes, gargles and mouthsprays.  In these, myrrh is characterised by an acrid-aromatic taste that works well against clove, eucalyptus, mint, thyme and other cleansing and medicinal flavours.  It is interesting that some herbalists use tincture of myrrh as an astringent for the mucous membranes of the mouth and throat, which is similar to how it used in oral hygiene.

From a culinary perspective, Pliny points to the spicing of wine with myrrh among the Romans (catissima apud priscos vina erarit murrae odore condita; Pliny, Nat. Hist. 14.92), acting as a preservative and imparting a slightly bitter taste.  Also, wine is still mixed with resins (retsina in Greece), spices (mulled wine across Europe), and some wine can taste like burnt tyres (Chateau Musar White to my palate) but is still drunk; in life now, we all have different tastes and in the developed world we probably eat and drink less bitter foods and drink than in other parts of the world and perhaps should for our health, veering to sweet and salty foods.  In fact, Roman wine would have been highly aromatic as wine amphorae were lined with a resin from pine trees, so imparting a distinctive flavour to some of the long-hauled wine in the Roman Empire, which is basis for retsina idea today.

However, it was also mixed with wine for medicinal reasons.  Myrrh’s medicinal use in ancient times included 54 references to its use in Hippocratic literature.  Per Wikipedia, myrrh is used for blood ailments because of its purported blood-moving properties (Chinese medicine) and as a tonic in Ayurvedic medicine [interestingly Ayurvedic medicine has it as contraindicated for uterine problems, which are specifically promoted as a positive area by Chinese medicine].  The mixing with wine may simply be a red herring, with wine being the simplest method for dissolving the myrrh before using it as a medicine and takes about 10 minutes to dissolve in wine, within which time it has not dissolved in water.  So one finds it is used to cure wounds (Herodotus 7.181), as a soporific (Pliny, Nat. Hist. 34.140), or mixed with other substances as an analgesic (Columella 6.38; Pliny 28.179 and 29.137), but these qualities are not particularly strong.  But when mixed with wine it makes the wine unpalatable tasting like vinegar, so perhaps it could have been a cruel joke for someone gasping for a drink.

Finally, it was also used in embalming in Egypt and the region, being quoted by Herodotus as an ingredient for the most expensive embalming techniques.

* It is interesting to note that in the Babylonian Talmud wine is mixed with frankincense not myrrh, and it was given by the women of Jerusalem for those condemned to death to numb the senses – “Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto the bitter in soul.”

References – general

van Beek (1958) Frankincense and Myrrh in Ancient South Arabia, Journal of the American Oriental Society, 78 (3), 141 – 152, Boston, USA

van Beek, G. (1960) Frankincense and Myrrh, The Biblical Archaeologist, 23 (3), 70-95, Boston, USA

Koskenniemi, E., Nisula, K., Toppan, J. (2005) Wine mixed with Myrrh (Mark 15.23) and Crurifragium (John 19.31-32): Two Details of the Passion Narratives, Journal for the Study of the New Testament 27.4, 379-389, London, UK

Tucker, A. O. (1986) Frankincense and Myrrh, Economic Botany 40 (4), 425-433, New York, USA

Wikipedia (not dated), Myrrh, published on the Internet at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myrrh (Downloaded December 2011)

What Is Not?

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

E = mc2 (and so m=E/c2) is the iconic scientific equation. But what happens if you put E = 0, or m = 0, into the equations. In the first, the answer becomes E = 0 and also in the second m = 0. In other words, if there is no mass, there is no energy and vice versa. We are bounded by this idea that matter and mass are just parts of the same thing.

However, is this everything? I wonder whether the equation explains reality and so is complete, or rather whether it indicates the edges of our perception and so what can be observed, experimented on and experienced. It precludes objects that are mass without energy or energy without mass, things that are not both particle and wave. But why cannot there be particles that are particles but not waves, and waves that are just that: waves? The retort is simply that is the way it is, so shut up, deal with it and calculate, because it works. It does actually work.

But still I wonder whether this equation only explains what we can see, and whether there is more out there that we cannot? Are we created to experience only those things with wave-particle duality and mass-energy equivalence, and to be incapable of experiencing those things that are simply not paired up? In physics, for some bizarre reason, everything seems to need a pair, or a partner. But even if this reality is correct, it only explains the 20% (or less) that we can see and observe, but ignores the balance that we cannot see: the dark side, which just like the dark ages of medieval history means the stuff we do not comprehend because we do not have the data.

Perhaps we must accept that our universe is a limited and bounded experience that can only be perceived as things defined by the equations of theoretical physics. However, this feels just so limiting. I cannot believe that more is not possible, and that there is not a reality that exists without us, some equations and maths.

So ask what and where is the energy and matter we cannot define, i.e. dark energy and dark matter? Why can a wave and a particle not separate themselves?  Why cannot there be energy-less matter and vice versa? Why cannot two bodies of mass interact with each other faster than the speed of light? Why don’t planets and stars influence us on earth in real-time instantaneously rather than in astronomical time? And so on…

Give Some Time And Make Some Christmas Sweets

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

In this festive period, we have been asked out to various families for drinks, or the kids out to parties.  And the question always is what to give people in a period of giving.  So yesterday, the kids and I spent a happy day making sweets, much as we have done before.  So there was a kitchen full or sugar, ground almonds and the smell of chocolate.  Our clothes were covered in the light white snow of icing sugar and there was a healthy crunch of caster sugar beneath our feet on the kitchen tiles.

Our Kitchen Table Covered In Homemade Sweets

Our Kitchen Table Covered In Homemade Sweets

But why bother, when you can buy sweets in the shops.  And where they are way cheaper as well – excluding the ingredients, our time would cost each sweet at about 50p, and that’s sweet and not box of sweets.  The answer is in part that they taste much nicer as we use better ingredients like organic Fairtrade sugar, and are much more generous in the luxury components like chocolate and vanilla.  But also, it is the giving of our time.

In an age where everyone claims to be so time poor, giving excuses like I am far too busy to play with my children or cook a meal from scratch or to make sweets or bake, what is more generous than giving over some time to make something for friends and family.  And they taste pretty damn delicious as well.  Think if I were a hedge fund manager or big corporate fat cat, I could perhaps even get the cost per sweet up to £18 or more per chunk of fudge – think how generous my time would be then.

So I say, please give some time and make something for your friends and family and show how generous you can be by releasing some of your precious time to show how much you love and care.

Enough of that and down to the nitty-gritty, we made marzipan kugeln (or marzipan balls dipped in milk chocolate), peppermint creams (shaped as circles and stars and dipped in chocolate), milk chocolate shapes (Merry Christmas tablets, santas and stars), vanilla fudge and chocolate fudge.  There was something about the fudge that made it extra soft and velvety this year and less crystalline and tablet like.  I think it was the patience and extra diligence over the stirring, but it could just have been the recipe, which was tweaked for the ingredients I had to hand.

Homemade Chocolate Fudge

900g / 2lb caster sugar
100g / 3¼oz unsalted butter
1 large tin of evaporated milk (410g/ 14½oz)
¼ of evaporated milk tin of cold water
250g / 9oz milk chocolate

Prepare a tin, by lining the base with some baking parchment.  We use a 2cm (½ inch) deep pan that is 30cm by 20cm (12 inch x 8 inch).

Put the caster sugar, unsalted butter, evaporated milk and cold water into a heavy bottomed pan.  Put the pan over a medium heat and with a wooden spoon stir the mixture until it is fully dissolved.  While the sugar mixture is melting, melt the milk chocolate over a pan of boiling water, then when melted switch off but keep warm by keeping over the pan.

Turn up the heat a tad and let the sugar mixture boil rapidly, stirring consistently all the while.  When the mixture reaches the soft-ball stage (114C/238F), remove from the heat immediately.  I reckon this part takes around 20 minutes, but many books seem to claim it is much quicker.  Now you need to vigorously stir the mixture until it starts to thicken and begins to become rough – this takes 10 to 15 minutes and is quite tiring on the old arms.

Pour the fudge mixture into the baking tray, smooth over with a spatula.  Then using a sharp knife, cut the fudge into whatever sized cubes you want.

Leave to cool for 3 hours, then turn out of the baking tray, break off the fudge pieces, eating a few along the way to ensure the taste and texture are spot on, then put into an airtight container or some pretty gift boxes for pressies.

Homemade Chocolate Fudge In Gift Box

Homemade Chocolate Fudge In Gift Box

Recipe For A Thoroughly Modern Vegetarian Balti

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Once in a while, I really need to go without meat of any form and I am going through one of those patches at the moment.  So I have tweaked my Chicken Balti Recipe from earlier this year to be more tofu friendly and so usable as a vegetarian dish. At the same time, I have simplified the spices in the recipe to make the whole thing a bit quicker; if you want to mix the spice blend from scratch, I have put the spices as a note to the whole recipe. Now it is something that you can whizz up quickly at the end of the day and keep the whole family happy – for a short while as well.

Vegetarian Tofu Balti

Vegetarian Tofu Balti

Stage 1: the smooth Balti tomato sauce

3tbsp sunflower oil
1 medium onion (125g / 4½oz), roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
2cm fresh ginger, grated finely
2tsp Steenbergs Balti curry powder
150g / 4½oz chopped tomatoes

Firstly, we need to make the base balti sauce. Add the sunflower oil to a heavy bottomed pan and heat to sizzling hot. Add, then stir fry the onion and garlic until translucent which will take about 3 – 4 minutes. Add the fresh ginger and stir once. Add the Steenbergs Balti Curry Powder and stir in, turning for about half a minute, making sure it does not stick to the pan. Finally add the chopped tomatoes and simmer gently for about 5 minutes.

Blitz the sauce either with a hand held blender or take out and pulse in a Magimix until smooth. Set aside until later.

Stage 2: the Balti stir fry

3tbsp sunflower oil
500g / 1lb 2oz Quorn or tofu, cut into 2cm x 2cm cubes
1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped into 1cm x 1cm pieces
150g / 5oz onion, finely chopped
150g / 5oz button mushrooms, chopped in half or quarters
3tsp Steenbergs vegetable curry powder
2tbsp chopped tomatoes
1tsp Steenbergs garam masala
100ml / 3½ fl oz / ½ cup water
Handful chopped fresh coriander leaves

Heat the oven to 100C / 212F. Add half of the sunflower oil to a wok and heat until smoking hot. Stir fry the Quorn or tofu in batches until lightly browned. Put the cooked Quorn and tofu into the warmed oven. When complete, clean the wok.

Add the remainder of the sunflower oil to the wok and heat until hot and smoking. Add the green peppers, chilli and button mushrooms and stir fry for 4 – 5 minutes, stirring constantly, making sure it does not burn and is fried well. Tip in the vegetable curry powder and stir through twice, then add the smooth balti tomato sauce and mix in plus the 2 tablespoons of chopped tomatoes. Heat until simmering, then add the water and reheat to a simmer, mixing all together. Cook on a gentle simmer for 15 minutes.

Add the cooked Quorn or tofu pieces and mix together. Add the garam masala. Cook for a further 10 minutes. About 2 minutes before the end add the chopped fresh coriander and stir through.

Serve hot with naan, plus we like dhal with it.

Spice blends for those doing the spices from scratch:

Spice mix for Balti sauce (1)

½tsp cumin seeds
½tsp coriander seeds
¼tsp fennel seeds
½tsp chilli powder
½tsp Fairtrade turmeric

For these, mix together then either grind iun an electric coffee grinder or break up in mortar and pastle.  Alternatively you could use powders rather than whole seeds.

Spice mix for Balti stir fry (2), instead of vegetable curry powder

½tsp cumin powder
1tsp paprika
¼tsp fenugreek powder
1tsp turmeric
¼tsp cinnamon powder
¼tsp cardamom powder

Recipe For Nurnberger Christmas Cookies – German Lebkuchen

Saturday, December 17th, 2011

Following on from the spekulatius blog, we have been having fun trying to make German lebkuchen cookies.

There really is something Christmassy about the spices used in these Christmas biscuits – it’s that glorious mix of cinnamon, nutmeg and that extra richness from the cloves.  Everything about Christmas smells seems to revolve around cloves whether it is the Christmas cake, lebkuchen cookies or making your pomander.  And cloves are such a tricky spice that can completely overpower many spice blends, but seem to conjur up the right flavour for this festive period.

After a few goes at this recipe, this is where we have gotten to this year, but just like for the spekulaas I need to invest in some festive cookie shapes for next year.  Also, I think it would work well with a light chocolate glaze as an alternative to the icing sugar glaze.

Christmas Cookies

Christmas Lebkuchen Cookies

Lebkuchen Recipe

Working On The Lebkuchen Recipe

Working On The Lebkuchen Recipe

The ingredients bit:

250g / 9oz / 1¾ cups plus 1tbsp organic plain flour
85g / 3oz / ¾ cup ground almonds
2½tsp Steenbergs lebkuchen spice mix*
1tsp baking powder
½tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
175ml / ¾ cup clear honey (or golden syrup)
85g / 3oz softened unsalted butter
½tbsp lemon juice (this is lemon from ½ lemon)
½ lemon, finely grated zest (or combine to 1 lemon zested)
½ orange, finely grated zest
Some flaked or half blanched almonds (optional)

For the icing:

100g / 4oz / 1 cup icing sugar (confectioners’ sugar)
1 egg white, beaten

The recipe part:

Sieve the dry ingredients into a large bowl.

Warm the honey and butter in a pan over a low heat until the butter melts, then pour these into the flour mixture.  Add the lemon juice and lemon & orange zest.  Mix well with a hand held whisk until the dough is throughly combined.  Cover and leave to cool overnight, or for at least 2 hours. to let the flavours meld together and work that festive magic.

Heat oven to 180C/ 350F / Gas Mark 4.

Roll the lebkuchen dough in your hands into around 25 balls, each 3cm wide (1 inch wide), then flatten each one slightly into a disc.  Into the centre of the discs, place an almond flake. 

Divide the lebkuchen mixture between 3 baking trays lined with baking parchment, or ideally with an edible baking paper, with a decent amount of room for them to expand into.

Bake for 13 – 15 mins, or until when touched lightly no imprint remains, then cool on a wire rack.  While still warm, glaze the lebkuchen with the icing glaze, made as below.

Brush The Lebkuchen With Glazing Icing

Brush The Lebkuchen With Glazing Icing

While the cookies are baking, make your glazing icing: mix together the icing sugar and egg white to form a smooth, runny icing.

Brush the top of each biscuit with the glazing icing.  Leave to dry out.  I then glazed the top of the icing to give the lebkuchen a shinier lustre, but this is optional.

For the glaze, I took 100g (½ cup) caster sugar and 50ml (¼ cup) of water, melting these in a pan.  Then, I boiled the mix to 90C/200F, when I added 15g (1 tablespoon) of icing sugar.  This glaze was then bushed over the icing.  Granted that it is extra fussy, but then it is Christmas.

You should ideally, allow these Christmas cookies to mellow.  To do this, you should store the lebkuchen in an airtight container for a day or two to allow the flavours to mellow and the cookies to become softer.  To improve the flavours, you could include a few pieces of sliced orange or lemon, but make sure that they are not touching the lebkuchen as this will make them soggy and change the fruit every day to stop them going stale or mouldy.

* To make your own lebkuchen spice mix: ¼tsp ground cloves, ½tsp allspice powder, ½tsp nutmeg powder, 1¼tsp cinnamon

Recipe For Speculaas Biscuits – A Dutch Christmas Treat

Sunday, December 11th, 2011

One of my favourite Christmas cookies are spekulatius biscuits, or speculaas as they are called in the Netherlands.  I remember we always used to get a special parcel from Lebkuchen Schmidt in Nürmberg from my Granny.  In amongst all the beautiful tins and lebkuchen would be a few packs of their spekulatius cookies.  I loved their different shapes.

Then yesterday, our children had friends around before the School Christmas Disco, so to give them something creative to do between the pronouncements of “we’re bored – when is the party”, I made some spiced cookie dough using our Steenbergs koekkruidden spice mix and left the kids to cut out shapes.  Here are the recipes we tried; they are remarkably simple to make and the spice mix brings on those classic clove heavy aromas of the festive season.

Speculaas recipe – version 1

A Few Speculaas On A Plate

A Few Speculaas On A Plate

Ingredients

200g / 7oz self-raising flour
100g / 3½ oz light brown caster sugar
100g / 3½ oz softened butter
2-3 tbsp full milk
3tsp koekkruiden spices*
½ tsp baking powder
Zest of half an orange

For the top:

1 egg white, beaten
3tsp light brown caster sugar
2tbsp flaked almonds 

Preheat the oven to 180C/ 350F. Grease a baking tray.

Mix together all the ingredients in a mixer or blender until throughly mixed together.  Shape the dough into a ball and cover the dough ball with clingfilm and set aside for 1 hour in a cool place.

Flour a work surface and press the dough into an even, flat layer.  Using a cutter, cut shapes from the dough and place on the greased baking tray.

Brush with the egg white, then sprinkle with light brown caster sugar and flaked almonds on top of each speculaas biscuit.

Bake for 14-18 minutes and the biscuits are turning a slightly darker shade of brown. Remove from the baking sheet and allow to cool on a cooling rack.

Speculaas Recipe – Version 2

This recipe for St Nicholas Spiced Shortbread is based on a recipe from Elisabeth Luard’s excellent book – “European Festival Food”.  In it, Elisabeth Luard writes “Speculaas moulds themselves are made of wood – traditionally beech, pear, or walnut – shallow and relief-carved on the same principle as those used for Scottish shortbread.  They are usually 6 – 12 ins/15 – 30cm long and feature the Bishop himself, his donkey, or his servant Black Peter.  Smaller ones might be evergreen leaves and Christmas wreaths or little figures of children.”  We had none of these so just used normal cookie cutters, but I might invest in something for next year as these are really easy to make.

Round Christmas Cookies

Round Christmas Cookies - Speculaas

Ingredients

250g / 8½ oz self raising flour
125g / 4½ oz light brown caster sugar
3tsp koekkruiden spice mix*
50g / 1¾ oz ground almonds
100g / 3½ oz softened butter
1 egg, lightly whisked
1tbsp full milk

For the top:

1 egg white, beaten
3tsp light brown caster sugar
Flaked almonds
 (I bashed them a bit in a mortar and pestle to make them a better shape)

Preheat the oven to 180C/ 350F. Grease a baking tray.

Mix together all the ingredients in a mixer or blender until throughly mixed together.  I used the “K” blade on the Kenwood Mixer.  Shape the dough into a ball and cover the dough ball with clingfilm and set aside for 1 hour in a cool place.

Flour a work surface and press the dough into an even, flat layer.  Using a cutter, cut shapes from the dough and place on the greased baking tray.

Brush with the egg white, then sprinkle with light brown caster sugar and flaked almonds on top of each speculaas biscuit.

Bake for 14 – 18 minutes and the cookies are turning a slightly darker shade of brown. Remove from the baking sheet and allow to cool on a cooling rack.

* To make your own koekkruidden spice mix: ½tsp ground cloves, ½tsp allspice powder, 1tsp cardamom powder, 1tsp cinnamon

My Most Well Worn Cookbooks

Saturday, December 3rd, 2011

I don’t know whether it is when you really learned how to cook that determines what are your favourite books, or whether some books are just better than others.  However, I noticed recently how I still keep on going back to a few cookery books that I have simply had for ages.  They are really well worn, with the stains of tried and tested dishes on really special and popular recipes.

For me, the classics that I still find irreplaceable are: “Floyd on France“, “Floyd on Britain and Ireland“, Sophie Grigson’s “Meat Course“, a few books by Maddhur Jaffrey’s “Indian Cookery”, and then I use Elisabeth Luard’s “European Peasant Cookery”, Reader’s Digest “Farmhouse Cookery”.  Then for Christmas and other special occasions, I turn to – Claire MacDonald’s “Celebrations” and Delia Smith’sChristmas” for inspiration.

I’ve got stacks of cookery books, but were I to go to a desert island these are the books that I would take with me, plus perhaps some books by Ray Mears, so I would be actually be able to build a shelter, forage for food and practise my survival skills.

What books could you not live without?

North Yorkshire Beef Stew

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011
Yesterday, I had a cracking headache, so decided that a warm kitchen and some homely fare was what was needed.  I went out early to the Newby Hall Farm Shop and chose some decent looking braising steak that had a good colour, together with a lovely amount of marbling.  Then, I bought some cream, some shallots and some pears.  Back home, I put the radio on to listen to the football and cook.  It was a good listen as Newcastle drew with Manchester United – sometimes the luck falls the right way.

As for what to do with the beef, I decided to start with the idea of beouf à la bourguignonne, however our kids do not like onions, or at least they do not like to see the onions that they are given.  So a true beef bourguignon was not on the cards as these need some baby onions plus we need to dilute the winey flavours a little by adding some cream – that certainly does not make it less rich, but it does take some of the boozey notes out of the stew.

For those wondering about the pears, I stewed them in Madeira on the lines of my Pears In Rooibos, Vanilla And Saffron Recipe.

North Yorkshire Beef Stew

1.5kg / 3lb Braising steak, cut into 2cm cubes (the key is a decent amount of marbling on well-hung beef)
5 Slices streaky bacon, cut into 1cm cubes
25g /1 dessert spoon Unsalted butter
2tbsp Olive oil
250g / 8 oz / 5 large shallots, finely chopped
2 Garlic cloves, finely sliced
250g / 8 oz Button mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
4tbsp + 1tbsp Olive oil
5 Sprigs of thyme
2 Bay leaves
1 Handful of “proper” fresh parsley, finely chopped (not the flat leaved stuff)
10 Red peppercorns
1 bottle / 750ml Red wine
200ml / 7 fl oz Madeira
Salt & black pepper, to taste
200ml / 7 fl oz cream (optional)

Preheat the oven to 160C/ 300F.

Ina a heavy bottomed frying pan, melt the unsalted butter and olive oil together.  When hot, add one-third of the steak and brown off, turning when a side has become sealed.  When the steak is sealed, transfer with a slotted spoon or fork to an ovenproof plate and keep warm in the oven.  Continue to brown off the steak pieces until all have been sealed. 

While you are browning the braising steak, prepare the stock.  In a heavy bottomed casserole, add the 4tbps of olive oil and heat up.  Over a medium heat, sweat the escallions (shallots) and garlic until translucent.  When cooked remove with a slotted spoon and place on an ovenproof dish and keep warm in the oven. 

Add a little extra olive oil if needed and heat up the oil, then tip in the button mushrooms and sauté in the olive oil.  Fry until lightly browned.

Take the cooked shallots and garlic and return these to the casserole, mixing into the browned mushrooms.  Add the red wine, Madeira, herbs, salt and spices.  Place a lid on the pot and heat up to simmering point.

Transfer the sealed braising steak to the casserole pot and heat the stock until simmering.  Take the casserole off the hob and transfer to the oven.  Cook for 3 hours.  At the end of the oven cook, remove from the oven and stir in the cream; this is optional as real boeuf bourguignon does not contain cream, but I like it.

North Yorkshire Beef Stew

North Yorkshire Beef Stew