Shortbread

A plate of buttery shortbread

When I was 8 we moved half way round the world from Belgium to Hong Kong. I have memories of that time but they are very much the memories of a child. I remember the colours of the curtains in the plane for example. I remember how cool I thought it was that all the kids in my new, British school got crisps in their lunchbox. And how uncool I thought it was that my mum refused to take on that habit. I have fond memories of a very unorganised stationary shop in Shatin Plaza shopping centre where I would carefully pick out the nicest smelling letter paper (this was the era of smelly letter paper and stickers, even erasers!).

I personally hold British Airways and Cathay Pacific responsible for introducing me to small blocks of orange coloured cheddar cheese and Walker’s shortbread fingers in their distinctive red wrapper. I have loved them ever since that very first flight half way around the globe. Sometimes I prefer the convenient, factory made versions. Other times, I prefer to go to the cheesemongers at our local farmer’s market for a good piece of cheddar. In the same way, I sometimes prefer to make our own shortbread.

Shortbread triangles

Shortbread is quick and easy to make. For the basic version you only need 3 ingredients: sugar, flour and butter. That’s it! And mixing it couldn’t be easier. A bowl and a set of hands will get you the perfect shortbread dough in minutes. No overworking the dough though. It needs to be crumbly. The crumblier the better the finished result will be. It will look gorgeously rustic and smell buttery and sweet. I think that after speculoos, this is my favourite childhood cookie.

What’s your favourite childhood cookie? Can you tell me how to make them?

Shortbread

(recipe from “Jamie’s Great Britain”, Jamie Oliver)

Makes 8 big cookies or 16 smaller cookies

Ingredients:

200g flour

50g sugar

125g butter (unsalted), cubed

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C and line a baking tray with baking paper.

2. In a bowl, mix the flour and sugar. Add the butter cubes.

3. Using your fingers, rub the butter, flour and sugar together. When you start to get crumbs, use your hands to press it all together into a ball and transfer onto the lined baking tray.

4. Using your hands, press the shortbread dough down into a circle, square or rectangle about 1 cm thick. It it rips or crumbles, just press it all together again. The shape doesn’t have to be perfect.

5. Use a knife to score lines where you plan to cut the shortbread after it has been baked. Then sprinkle it with about 1 tablespoon on sugar.

6. Bake for 25-30 minutes until it starts to lose its pale colour.

7. Take the shortbread out of the oven and let it sit to cool for 5 minutes. Then take a sharp knife and cut along the scored lines. Let cool a further 10-15 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

ENJOY!!

buttery and crumbly shortbread

Crispy and chewy chocolate biscuits

As this is my last post for this year I want to start by wishing you all a very merry Christmas and best wishes for the new year.

It’s the third week of advent and it seems that it is entirely dedicated to baking. Although, to be honest, I am suffering from a very annoying cold which means I’ve had to scale back my plans a bit.

Did you enjoy last week’s post on St. Lucia? We were in Spain staying with my Swedish parents-in-law for the occasion. We ate a lot of saffron buns and gingersnaps and the kids dressed up as Lucia and the gingerbread man.

Being on holiday in Spain, we ate a lot of good food. Between tapas, paella and ice-cream there was also room for local cured meats, traditional Spanish Christmas treats and these crispy and chewy chocolate biscuits courtesy of my mother-in-law.

These thin chocolate biscuits are crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. They are easy to make and take very little time. You probably already have most ingredients in the house.

When these biscuits come out of the oven it will look like they’re not done. Don’t panic. This is exactly how they’re meant to be. You need them to be soft so you can cut them into thin strips before they cool and harden. I made these crispy and chewy chocolate biscuits for my son’s kindergarten Christmas party yesterday. I took an empty box back home so I think they were well received.

The original recipe calls for light syrup (like Lyle’s Golden Syrup) which I can’t find in my local supermarket. Instead, I used treacle which is darker in colour and slightly different in taste. The result was the same though. Speaking of syrup, what kind do you use for baking gingerbread houses and men? Or does your recipe not call for it at all?

Crispy and chewy chocolate biscuits

(makes about 30-40)

Ingredients:

100g butter at roomtemperature

90g sugar

2 tbsp light syrup or treacle

130g flour

2 1/2 tbsp cocoa (NOT the chocolate drink kind)

1 tsp vanilla sugar

1/2 bicarbonate of soda

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C.

2. In the bowl of a standmixer fitted with a whisk (or use a handmixer) cream the butter, sugar, vanilla sugar and syrup until light and fluffy.

3. Sift in the flour, cocoa and the bicarbonate of soda and keep mixing.

4. When all the ingredients are well mixed together, take out the dough and shape it into a ball on a floured surface. Divide into 2 equal parts and the roll the balls into sausages about 5cm in diameter.

5. Place the sausages on a baking tray lined with baking paper about 15-20cm apart. Flatten them slightly with floured hands.

6. Bake them in the middle of the oven for 15 min. The dough will spread a lot and become very flat. Take them out and let cool for about 3 minutes, no more! Take a sharp knife and cut strips about 3cm wide along the length of the baked dough.

7. Leave the biscuits on the baking tray to cool completely. Then store in an airtight container so they don’t lose their crispness.

ENJOY!

(No pictures yet as I am having trouble uploading them to this post. You will find some on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook though)

Traditional Belgian Sinterklaas treats

Christmas flatly with red

That moment when November turns into December it’s like a switch in my head flips and I am in full Christmas countdown mode. Taylor Swift’s latest album gets pushed to the side and Michael Buble and Bing Crosby take over my playlists. I poke my nose in every bit of fir and spruce I can find and get excited about peeling a mandarin (oh the smell!). Yes, December first marks the start of the Christmas countdown in this house.

This is how it looks:

1st December: Start of Advent

6th December: Sinterklaas

13th December: St. Lucia

24th December: Christmas Eve

We started with lighting the first candle of our Advent wreath and opening the first door of our Advent calendar. This coming weekend we will celebrate Sinterklaas with the kids and next week St. Lucia, thus keeping their Belgian and Swedish Christmas heritage alive. And then we finish off with family dinner and presents on Christmas Eve.

I talked about Sinterklaas in this post and this one too. If you want to have a go at putting together a Sinterklaas treat for your kids (or yourself) here is what you will need:

Traditional Sinterklaas treat

– Speculaas (Biscoff) cookies are a must. Try making your own with my recipe.

– Flemish Christmas buns or Sinterklaaskoeken are perfect for breakfast or afternoon coffee. Make sure to spread them thick with butter. Here’s my version of these sweet yeast buns.

– clementines

– chocolate coins

– Nic Nacs which you can buy or make yourself. Here is a recipe you can try.

Next week I’ll be baking traditional Swedish saffron buns to celebrate St. Lucia. In the mean time, what does your December countdown look like?

Vintage Sinterklaas postcard

(image source: Vintage images, http://vintageimages.org) 

 

Speculaas spice mix

A few weeks ago I made these crunchy, spiced speculaas cookies. There is rarely a Belgian household that doesn’t have at least one packet of them laying around. This time of year though, people make an effort to bake them at home or to buy them at the local baker’s. Why? Because in Belgium (and in the Netherlands) Speculaas is very much associated with Sinterklaas, or St. Nicholas, which we celebrate on December 6th.

To make this yummy treat, you need a Speculaas spice mix. Maybe you are lucky enough to find one ready-made where you live. But if you live outside Belgium or the Netherlands, chances are you won’t find it or it might be expensive. So here is my version. Use it to make Speculaas or add it to your favourite sugar cookie recipe. Try it sprinkled on top of your latte or hot chocolate. Use it for this year’s Thanksgiving pumpkin pie.

Cardamom, mace, cloves, cinnamon and ginger

Speculaas spice mix

4 measures of ground cardamom

8 measures of ground cinnamon

2 measures of ground ginger

1 measure of ground cloves

1 measure of ground nutmeg

1 measure of ground mace (optional)

Mix the spices together and store in an airtight container.

What will you use this spice mix for?

ENJOY!

Speculaas – Speculoos – Biscoff cookies

Perfect speculaas cookies (homemade biscoff cookies)

For the past 5 days Berlin has been covered in a blanket of greyness. The sun obviously thought that it also deserved a week of autumn holiday like all the school kids in the city. Rubber boots were the preferred choice of footwear and every puddle on the way to Kita had to be jumped in. I would have joined my kids in this fun activity but I don’t own rubber boots. I did attempt to buy a pair yesterday but it turns out, they are not really stocked in shoe shops. The adult version, that is, kids boots are available everywhere. But guess what, today we woke up to blue skies. It has since clouded over a bit but the rain has stopped. And so has my search for boots.

Next time it rains, I will of course end up with wet feet again. P. will point out that I should really get proper footwear for the season. I will tell him that he is right and that I will order some online tonight. We have had this same conversation for the past 3 autumns here in Berlin…

Traditional speculaas cookies

So we’ve had our first week of proper awful autumn weather in the city and this can only mean one thing. People are moving indoors in search of comfort and cosiness. Tables outside of restaurants are empty and iced coffees are swapped for hot chocolates and ginger teas. And since the ice cream shops have closed for the season, sweet temptations have to be found elsewhere. When was the last time your home smelled of freshly baked cookies? More to the point, has your home ever been filled with the smells of ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and my favourite, mace?

Speculaas (or speculoos, or Biscoff cookies) are spiced cookies which can be found all year round in Belgium. The spice mix needed to make them comes ready-made and can easily be bought in shops or bakeries. I started making my own speculaas mix because these packets are not available in Berlin and maybe where you live either. The cookies will not taste like the Lotus brand of Biscoff cookies though. They are the kind you would buy at the traditional bakery on the corner of the street.

Cardamom, mace, cloves, cinnamon and ginger

A quick note on the spices:

– Cardamom comes in pods or already ground. If you can only find the pods, ground the seeds with a spice grinder or coffee grinder until you get a fine powder.

– The same applies for the cloves. If you can’t find the powder, grind them into a thin powder.

– Use only ground ginger and nutmeg.

– Mace is a spice derived from nutmeg. You will also need it in powder form. I find this spice tricky to find where I live. It can be left out.

Speculaas – Speculoos – Biscoff cookies

(makes 15-20 depending on what cookie cutter you use)

Ingredients:

250g flour

150g butter, softened

140g dark brown sugar

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

4 tbsp milk at room temperature

1 tsp ground cardamom

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground mace (optional)

Method:

1. Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl.

2. Add the milk and the butter and kneed until the dough stops sticking to your hands or the dough hook of a standmixer.

3. Roll the dough into a ball them flatten into a thick disk. Wrap it in baking paper (or clingfilm) and chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours. Overnight is even better as the flavours will really develop.

4. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

5. Lightly flour your work surface and roll out the dough until 5 mm thick. Use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes. Transfer the cookies to a baking tray lined with baking paper.

6. Bake the cookies in the middle of the oven for 12-15 minutes.

7. Let the cookies cool on a wire rack and store in a airtight container.

ENJOY!

Stacks of crunchy, spicy speculaas cookies

Oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies – Baking with kids

Oat and chocolate chips cookies in a child's suitcase

If you have toddlers and you travel with them, be it by car, plane or train, you have at some point googled this subject. And on every list op tips and tricks there is an entire paragraph dedicated to snacks. Not only to keep hungry travellers happy but also as a bargaining tool when said travellers refuse to go through the metal detector at the airport or fights the carseat belts.

drawing of Madagascar by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski

Here’s the thing with snacks. No mini-traveller will accept carrot sticks as a bribe. And no parent will give hungry tummies a packet of gummy bears pretending it’s a meal (although… I can totally see how a situation could arise where this would be the only way forward…). If you want to keep things on the healthier side, you’re better off making the snacks yourself. But if you’re in the middle of packing and the munchkins want to help by throwing every possible item of clothing they own in your suitcase, the last thing you’ll want to do is spend a lot of time on baking “responsible” cookies. The effort required for these cookies is minimal. One bowl, one spoon, one scale (or 1 set of measuring spoons in Cups) and 3 minutes of elbow grease. Or take some time out from the holiday prep and get your mini-travellers involved. I’ve been making these oat cookies with my daughter since she mastered some sort of stirring motion around her first birthday.

The cookies are practically crumb free so no post-car journey vacuuming required.  And if you add raisins instead of chocolate chips you will also arrive at your destination without chocolate fingers on your new T-shirt. I hope your travels this summer will not involve too much munchkin stress. And if you think you’re going to lose the will to ever travel again, just grab a cookie! Safe travels!

oat and chocolate chip cookies

Oat and chocolate chip or raisin cookies (no refined sugar)

(makes 9 cookies)

Ingredients:

80g or 3/4 cups oats

40g or half of 3/4 cups flour

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp baking soda

30ml or 1/8 cup honey

30ml or 1/8 cup maple syrup

30ml or 1/8 cup rapeseed oil (or another neutral tasting oil, no olive oil)

1/4tsp vanilla essence

1 banana, mashed, no lumps (for a more crunchy cookie, use 1/2 banana)

4 tbsp chocolate chips or raisins

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C and line a baking tray with baking paper.

2. Using a wooden spoon, mix all the ingredients in a bowl.

3. Spoon 1 tbsp of the mixture at a time onto the baking tray, making 3 rows of 3.

4. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden.

5. Cool on a wire rack.

Note: These cookies do lose their crunch quickly even when stored in an airtight container.

ENJOY!

Child's suitcase with toys and books

The Children’s Atlas “Alle Welt” is by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinska translated to German by Thomas Weiler and published by Moritz Verlag, Frankfurt am Main.

The book “Nijntje vliegt” is by Dick Bruna and published by Mercis Publishing, Amsterdam.

The book “Mumin Var är Lilla My?” is published by Alfabeta Bokförlag AB, Stockholm. It is translated from the English version “Moomins lift-the-flap Hide and Seek” which is published by Puffin Books, Penguin Group.  

This recipe has been adapted in several ways over the last 3 years. I do not remember the blog I found the original recipe on. 

Vegan chocolate shortbread with salted caramel and nuts

 

vegan chocolate shortbread with salted caramel close-up

About 20 years ago my two younger brothers decided to become vegetarians. They were teenagers. And my mother took them seriously. She never said it was a phase, something that would pass, a teenage rebellion thing. No, she attended vegetarian cooking courses so that she could be sure that her boys were getting all the vitamins, minerals etc. they needed to grown strong and healthy. Ready-made veggie burgers rarely entered our house. My mother took it all in her stride and educated herself on what vegetarianism was all about. She also proved that it wasn’t that hard to cook vegetarian meals on a daily basis. The hard thing is to change your mindset. If before, you were a meat-potato-veg person, stepping away from that can sometimes require a bit of creativity and effort.

white fresia on grey background

My brothers made the step to a meat free life in the 90’s and they tell me things have really moved on since then. More and more people are aware and more and more shops and restaurants recognise the growing number of people choosing this way of life. Living in Berlin I have really been exposed to the possibilities of eating vegetarian. More recently, I have found myself curious at the concept of a vegan lifestyle. I don’t plan to become 100% vegetarian or vegan, but I realised that our little family does eat this way more often than not for different reasons.

vegan chocolate shortbread with salted caramel side shot with palm leaf

This shortbread with salted caramel is my first attempt at creating a vegan baking recipe. I had to do quite a bit of research which I really enjoyed. Anything for a challenge! The recipe is by no means perfect but I think it is a good first attempt. Let me know what you think about it.

vegan chocolate shortbread with salted caramel side shot

Vegan chocolate shortbread with salted caramel and nuts

Ingredients for the shortbread:

100g room temperature coconut oil

50g sugar

150g flour

3 tbsp raw cacao

5 tbsp almond milk

Ingredients for the salted caramel with nuts:

220g sugar

60ml water

120ml coconut cream

1/2 tsp fleur de sel

50g unsalted peanuts, chopped

Method:

1. Line a 20×26 tin with baking paper. You could also use a round tin with 21cm diameter.

2. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

3. Using a hand mixer, cream the coconut oil and sugar for a couple of minutes.

4. Add the flour, cacao and almond milk and mix with a wooden spoon. You can also use your hands.

5. Press the dough into the tin and bake for 20 minutes.

6. Allow to cool in the tin.

Make the caramel:

1. In a clean saucepan, add water then sugar. Put the pan on medium heat and leave it. Don’t be temped to stir or swirl the mixture.

2. Let the mixture boil until it goes a dark golden colour. I let my caramel heat up to 195 degrees C on a digital kitchen thermometer. Be careful not to burn the caramel.

CARAMEL GETS EXTREMELY HOT, DONT TOUCH IT!

3. Take the caramel off the heat and carefully add the coconut cream. The mixture will splatter so be careful not to get burned. Mix the coconut cream into the caramel with a wooden spoon.

4. Carefully pour the caramel onto the shortbread.

5. Sprinkle the chopped peanuts and the fleur de sel onto te caramel.

6. Let the caramel cool and set. You can put it in the fridge if you want to speed up the process.

7. Cut into pieces and store in a cool place so the caramel doesn’t melt. I find it keeps well, covered in the fridge.

ENJOY!

vegan shortbread with salted caramel side view

palm leaf

Baking with kids: R.O.C. (raisins, oatmeal, coconut) cookies

Do you sometimes feel like time is running away and you are desperately trying to catch up with it? That’s how I have been feeling these last few weeks. It was my 3 year old daughter that reminded me last Saturday that we hadn’t baked anything yet. She came running into the kitchen looking very disappointed and worried and said: “Mama, we still need to bake today!” I then heard a nearly 2 year old son run from the far end of our apartment to the kitchen screaming: “JAAAAAAA, BAKA!!” which is Swedish for “YEEEEEES, BAKE!!” And so we did…

Cookies in dish

I admit, I did have a panic moment as they opened up the kitchen cupboard and took out their aprons. I hadn’t planned anything. I didn’t have a recipe. What on earth were we going to make? Turns out, we ‘invented’ R(raisins) O(oatmeal) C(coconut) cookies (and they kind of look like rocks too).

Three cookies on a white napkin

These are the kind of cookies you literally throw together. Everything goes in one pot. And then you hand the little ones a wooden spoon and let them get on with it. Although, I used my stand mixer and I let them take turns in throwing the ingredients in the bowl (pouring is for adults in case you didn’t know).

One cookie

Tadah! One golden nugget of goodness. Perfect for little hands and no refined sugar. The sweetness comes from the raisins and the agave or honey used. These are so easy and quick to make and so much better and healthier than anything bought in the shop.

Several cookies

Let the kids roll the balls. Or if your child is still too young for this skill, roll the balls yourself and let them place the cookies on the baking tray.

R.O.C. Cookies

(makes 20)

1/2 cup almond meal (about 8 tbsp)

1 cup oats (about 16 tbsp)

pinch of salt

1/4 tsp baking powder

2 tbsp soft, unrefined coconut oil

1 egg, whisked

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup raisins (about 8 tbsp)

2 tbsp agave nectar or honey

Method:

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C

Put all the ingredients in a bowl and mix with a wooden spoon until well incorporated. If using a stand mixer, use the paddle and a low speed.

Makes 20 little balls with about a tbsp or 2 of cookies mixture.

Put the cookie balls on a lined baking tray. If you want flat cookies, press down lightly to form small, thick discs.

Bake for 15-20 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack.

Enjoy!

You can make this recipe gluten free by using gluten free oats and substituting baking powder for 1 part baking soda plus 2 parts cream of tartar.

Cookies surrounded by toys

Sugar cookies plain and simple

Good morning. And merry Christmas! If like me, you celebrated Christmas Eve last night, you will probably be looking to taking it easy today. Maybe you’re planning to go out for a long walk in the countryside. Or maybe you want to stay in your pyjamas all day and watch Love Actually 3 times in a row.

IMG_2495

If you’re celebrating today, I bet you’re already in the kitchen checking oven temperatures and making a mental inventory of how many bottles of red and white wine you have. Maybe, you’re going to have to make a last minute trip to the supermarket because you forgot to buy milk (it can happen).

Not everyone celebrates Christmas. Today could be just like any other day. But, whatever it is you are planning to do today, it is always a good day to bake. So let’s talk sugar cookies.

IMG_2512

Sugar cookies and easy and quick to make. Adding some festive decorations makes them perfect for a last minute addition to your Christmas coffee. Or tie a red bow around a stack of these lovelies and give it someone as a gift.

 

Have a lovely Christmas today.

IMG_2536

Recipe

(makes about 20 cookies)

250g flour

100g sugar

100g butter, softened

1 egg

8g/1tbsp vanilla sugar

Method

Use a standmixer or a handmixer to cream the sugar, vanilla sugar and butter together until the mixture is creamy and fluffy.

Add the egg and keep mixing until completely incorporated.

Add the flour and mix until the dough forms a smooth ball.

Flatten the ball slightly, wrap in clingfilm and cool in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Take the dough out of the fridge. Flour your work surface and rolling pin. Roll out the dough to about 1/2cm thick. Cut out any shapes you like.

Place the cookies on a lined baking tray. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until they start to turn golden.

Let the cookies cool on a wire rack.

Enjoy!