Thursday, 10 December 2009

Oh, what's that smell, could it be?

Yes, it it. The unmistakeable smell of Plaetzchen (biscuits). If there is one thing that reminds me of Christmas time in my childhood, it's this smell. There are some peculiarities in German culture, and this one is a very good example. There is a wealth of amazingly tasty biscuits that every self respecting family will bake in the run-up to Christmas (aka advent), and activity shared with the whole family. It fills every sense, the tactile kneading, the smell, the taste of dough and finished biscuits, the sound of Christmas carols, the sight of stars, moons and every Christmassy shape you can imagine. And somehow, in spite of this being so goody good, we only do it at Christmas. Which is a shame really. Because, arguably, these biscuits are one of the highlights of German cuisine. In my opinion anyway.

When I was a child, this was as good as the only baking we would do during the whole year. Well, there was occasional cake baking, but my mother hated the mess, she hated toddler/child me in the kitchen creating even more mess, and my dad never liked cakes (odd, I know). At the best of times, I was tolerated in the kitchen. Of course those negative kitchen vibes could not come between me and the love of baking Weihnachtsplaetzchen (Christmas cookies), and I would demand it anyway, contributing to a stressed out mood of my mother. Maybe she got stressed because we'd make about 3 or 4 receipes at once, which to be fair is highly stressful and also a tad boring. Biscuit baking is, after all, not a factory line production.

Christmas biscuits were given as presents, everyone seemed to have their personal best and so they were exchanged. Bakeries would sell their own home made biscuits and there were lengthy discussions about which were good and which weren't. It had to taste homemade, and if it didn't, the verdict was crushing.

After a baby induced break from making Christmas biscuits (my spirited daughter, for the past 2 years, did not allow me any opportunity to find the time and relaxed spirit needed to embark on Plaetzchen making and the year before that I was pregnancy-tired), I can proudly declare that 2 3/4 year after baby, I'm back at it.

Tonight I made one of my three all time favourites. They're called Vanille Kipferl, something like vanilla halfmoons in English. Fancy the recipie? Here you go:

Ingredients:
50gr ground almonds
50gr gound hazelnuts
280gr flour (I use self raising)
70gr sugar (I use brown caster sugar)
200gr butter (unsalted if you can get your hand on it, if not, nevermind - I use butter at room temperature, 30 seconds in the microwave does the trick)
2 egg yolks
20 gr vanilla sugar (the one item not to be found in the UK! Don't despair, vanilla sugar is just that, sugar and vanilla. I add a double measure of vanilla essence plus increasing the amount of caster sugar by 20gr)
icing sugar

Method:
Mix everything together (apart from the icing sugar).
Knead into a dough. Wrap dough into aluminium foil and put it in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
Pre-heat the oven to 190 degree C.
Take small portions of the dough and quickly form into a roll the thickness of a big pencil (for this, knead through the portion briefly, then roll on the work surface with a tiny bit of flour).
Cut the roll into 5 cm long pieces and shape into half moons/circles.
Put on a baking tray (either buttered or use baking paper) and bake in the middle of the oven at 190 degree C until golden (7-10 minutes depending on size of your biscuits and whether you have a fan assisted oven or not).
Take out, let cool for a few minutes but not too long (they should still be warm), then roll the biscuits in icing sugar (or vanilla sugar if you can get hold of some).
The biscuits store well in airtight containers.

Watch for toddlers and husbands who may sneakily eat them before Christmas, which of course is absolutely not tolerated. Only breakage may be eaten before Christmas.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very tasty and homemade, as my tummy can attest.
Mr Cartside.

Liz@Violet Posy said...

They sound lovely, I might give them a go over the holidays. They sound like the perfect thing to cook with my little girl. Thankyou! PS You have the best blog name ever!!

Mwa said...

These look gorgeous. After your discussion about stressed mummy, I've decided I may allow my children into the kitchen for this. Begrudgingly. But I'll try to not let them notice my stress.

Emily O said...

They look really yummy, I kep getting good intentions about baking for Christmas. Should actually do some! Can I use this post on my other blog http://motherknowsbest.wordpress.com? I want to put up a Christmassy post tomorrow. I'd only post the beginning of yours up and then link to you for readers to follow.

cartside said...

Mr Cartside, Glad that you liked them. May I remind you that the ones you ate weren't broken? Ts ts ts.

Liz, thanks you! Credit to the blog name goes entirely to my little girl. She still says it all the time!

Mwa, Lol. Admittedly I also have to hide my stress, but I'm determined not to let the stress take over. In spite of having had a SAHM, I learned to cook after I left home and still don't like it a lot. I kind of blame her constant worry that I'd be making a mess and not tidy up the kitchen (I wasn't allowed to use it on my own ever), but maybe that's just passing the buck.

Emily, sure, that would be lovely. They are easy to bake. And there will be more recipies on the way in the next weeks.

smashedpea said...

Oh yeah :)

We're baking this weekend with at least one of the kids, though I've done a Stollen already. It's also still sitting there, allowing the rum-soaked raisins to become really, really, really yummy.

And next week I fully intend to erm, call in sick one day - gasp, I know - to do some more baking on my own. And maybe this year I'll make some Vanillekipferl even. I'm not usually a big fan of those, maybe because we never made them when I was a kid, but I had some recently at a friends' house and have been feeling the itch ever since. Plus, The Husband's been begging me :)

cartside said...

smashed pea - oh Stollen, I've never dared try to make it myself yet. Must do one of these days, but not this year that's for sure. Next on my list are Zimtsterne and Spritzgebaeck.

Maggie said...

Yummy yummy yummy - want some!

Anonymous said...

Yours definitely look better than mine ... I am so out of practice!
Love, Uli

Mirka said...

That's funny, we share the same tradition!
http://wwwallbabyadvice.blogspot.com/2009/12/czech-xmas-cookies.html

cartside said...

Uli, I'm not so sure! Shame we can't have an actual competition and tasting.

Mirka, I'm not surprised, time and time again I find half of the stuff I consider to be "typical" German is also typical for Czech food! Definitely a lot of overlap in southern German culture and Czech culture.

Metropolitan Mum said...

Haha. There are Zimtsterne in my oven. At the very moment. Ahhhh...

Dot said...

I baked the vanille Kipferl yesterday using your recipe. Very yummy (having difficulty not eating them all before I manage to give them to people), even though our oven is absolutely awful and the cooking time was much longer than yours. One thing: what measure were you using for the vanilla essence? I used two capfuls of the little bottle it came in, but perhaps more would have been better.

cartside said...

Dot, glad you liked them! I think our oven is super quick, it always does stuff much quicker than the recommended time. Best approach is to keep an eye on and get them out as the edges start getting brown. As to vanilla - up to you really. The recipe doesn't have lots in it, in Germany I'd use vanilla sugar to turn the still warm biscuits in, but not having it, I added quite a lot of essence, and like yours, a bit more wouldn't have done any damage. I think I used about one tablespoon of vanilla. Next time I may go for 2.

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