Traditional Swiss Christmas cookies

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This is the time of year when many stores in Switzerland are full of little seasonal cookies.

Cinnamon, almonds, hazelnut, anise and cloves are the most common ingredients.

I like the fact that the cookies are very small, so you don’t feel that much gilt having one with a cup of coffee or tea. The problem is that my favorite cookies are so tasty that I end up eating at least three or more each time.

This winter I decided to bake my own christmas cookies, and the home made ones are delicious even better than the ones you buy.

I made two types of cookies that are made without flour so they are also gluten-free, Brunsli  (chocolate and almonds), and Zimsterne (cinnamon and almonds).

The recipes are very simple, but rolling the dough requires a little bit of patience. If you use some tricks on how to keep the dough pliable the cookies are really fun to make. The refrigerator is a great help. Don’t get frustrated if at first they are mishaped, they are very tasty and ” a rustic  look” is just fine!

 

Brunsli

Makes about 40-50 depending the size of your cutter

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  • 2 egg whites (if eggs are too small you may need a little extra egg white)
  • 270g / 2 1/2 cups, finely ground almonds
  • 215g / 1 cup sugar
  • 120g chocolate, chopped
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons Kirsch
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder, plus extra for rolling
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves, ground
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Ground chocolate with sugar in a food processor.

In a big bowl combine ground almonds, ground chocolate, sugar, pinch of salt, cocoa powder, cinnamon and cloves.

Add egg whites and Kirsch and with a wooden spoon mix well. With hand incorporate dough into ball.

Transfer dough on working surface sprinkled with a little bit of cocoa powder. If dough is to sticky, add a little more of cocoa powder, if is too dry add a bit of extra egg whites.

Divide it in two halves. Make flat disk and wrap into cling film.

Put into refrigerator for a minimum of 30 minutes to harden. That makes it less sticky.

Put dough in between two sheets of cling film, and then roll until 1 cm ( 1/2 in) thick. Use cutter to shape your cookies.

Put cookies on a tin, lined with a baking paper.

Let them sit overnight to dry. Leftover dough roll into ball, make a flat disk, put into refrigerator and repeat the process.

Preheat the oven to 150C /300F. Bake about 10-12min.

 

Zimsterne

makes about 40-50 depending the size of your cutter

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  • 3 egg whites
  •  210g / 4 cups almonds,finely ground
  • 335g /2 cups icing sugar, sifted
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon Kirsch

 

In a big bowl combine ground almonds and cinnamon.

Mix egg whites and icing sugar until stiff peack.

Put one third of mixture to almond mixture and mix with awooden spoon.

Hand shape it into a ball and transfer to a working surface lightly sprinkled with a sugar. If too sticky add more almonds or if too dry add a little more egg whites.

Make a flat disk and wrap into a cling film. Put into refrigerator for a minimum 30 minutes to harden.

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Put dough in between two sheets of cling film and roll until 1 cm (1/2in) thick. Use star cookie cutter to shape your cookies.

Dip each cookie into the egg white mixture you set aside.

When mixture gets thick dilute with little bit of water. This is technique that works the beast for me. You can also apply with a brush. It requires a bit of patience but as you repeat the process it becomes easier.

Put them on a cookie sheet lined with baking paper and let them dry overnight.

Preheat the oven to 150C /300F.  Bake cookies for 10-12 min., don’t let the icing become brown.

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Poppy seed and nutmeg cake

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I have a weakness for any baked product that contains poppy seeds; probably because of the flavor and texture they add.

Poppy seeds are commonly used in baking in Central and Eastern Europe (strudel, cookies, breads or added to salad dressings). We are familiar with black poppy seeds, but there is also a white variety commonly used in India ( you can find them in Asian stores).

For this post I made a cake from Italy’s Alto Adige region. It is a rich, moist cake and combination of nuts and poppy seeds make it hard for me to stop with just one slice.

This cake is an example of the influence that Austrian cousine has had in this Northern part of Italy.

It is important to mention that before using poppy seeds in cakes they have to be crushed or ground, so they can release their flavor. I use a coffee grinder.

 

  • 180g butter, room temperature, plus extra for tin
  • 180g caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 5 eggs room temperature, separated
  • 140g hazelnut, ground
  • 140g poppy-seed
  • salt
  • icing sugar for decoration
  • flour for tin

 

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Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.

Lightly butter then line the bottom of cake pan with baking paper. I used 18cm (7 in) tin with loose bottom. Then lightly coat entire inside surface with butter and sprinkle with flour.

In a coffee grinder grind the poppy seeds in batches until finely ground, but be careful not to turn it into paste.

Mix together ground poppy seeds and ground hazelnut.

Put the butter, 3/4 of measured sugar and a pinch of salt into a bowl. Beat together until pale and light.

Lightly beat the egg yolks and add them slowly to the butter mixture making sure they are incorporated after each addition.

Fold in poppy seeds and hazelnut mixture.

In a separate bowl beat the egg whites until stiff peaks. Add the remaining sugar and beat until stiff and glossy.

Fold small amount of egg whites into butter to loosen it then carefully fold the rest of egg whites.Pour the mixture into the tin.

Place the cake tin in the middle of the oven, and bake about  55 min. Take out of the oven and cool for 10 min. Take cake out of the tin and cool on a wire rack, then peel the baking paper.

Cake will deflate slightly when cooled. Invert the cake on the plate and sprinkle with some icing sugar for decoration.

Potato and spinach gnocchi with mushroom sauce

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This is a simple and delicious dish from northern part of Italy, Alto Adighe, Sudtirol. It is easy to make.

The best is to use fresh ingredients, but if you are short of time, or if you don’t have patience to clean all those fresh spinach leafs, using frozen spinach is just fine.

Alto Adige , very mountainous , and full of forests has a soil that is good for growing mushrooms, particularly Porcini mushrooms, which are often used in recipes. If you can’t find them fresh, use dry ones, or substitute them for bottom mushrooms like I did in this recipe.

The rich taste in this dish comes from the sauce.

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  • 350g potatoes (2 potatoes), peeled
  • 300g fresh spinach(coarse stems discarded), or 180g frozen
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 110g flour

sauce

  • 180g mushrooms
  • 30g tablespoon of butter
  • 150ml chicken stock
  • 200ml double cream

Wash the spinach and drain well. Blanch for 30sec than refresh in cold water.

Drain and squeeze the water out and finely chop.

Cut the potatoes in half and place them in a saucepan. Cover them with cold water.

Bring water to boil, than lower the heat and simmer until potatoes are tender.

Drain the potatoes. Return them to pan and dry them on the low heat. Take them out and cool.

Press the potatoes through the riser into a big bowl.

Add the egg yolk and the spinach. Work with your hand until lightly incorporated; keep adding flour until the dough is slightly sticky.

Lightly flour a work surface. Divide dough in fourth.

Roll each part in a rope approximately 1.5cm / 1/2 in thick. Using a knife cut each piece into a 2.5cm /  1in size.

You can use a fork or a gnocchi board to get creative ridges.

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Bring a big pot of salted water to boil. Put the gnocchi in the water in batches. Cook until they rise to the surface about 5 min.

Drain them in a colander. Toss a little oil so they don’t stick.

To make a sauce, wipe the mushrooms with a wet cloth or wet kitchen paper. Chop them. Melt the butter over medium heat then add the mushrooms to it and cook until soft.

In a pot add double cream and chicken stock. Bring to boil then lower heat and simmer until sauce thickens.

Put the mushrooms into the sauce and serve over the gnocchi.