Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Baking Christmas Cookies – Part I

With Christmas Eve coming up in less than a week, it was about time for me to start baking Christmas cookies. And I have to admit, it was the desperate attempt to get some sort of Christmas feeling, at last. I don’t insist on having a white Christmas – coming from an area in Northern Bavaria where you can’t bet on that – but having Christmas in summer is really another story. Additionally, you can’t get hold of any real pine tree in this climate zone so forget about having a proper Christmas tree. So far, I couldn’t get myself accustomed to the idea of putting presents underneath a plastic tree. Therefore, there won’t be any Christmas tree for me this year. To make matters even worse, I won’t see any members of my family as they will of course celebrate their Christmas back home in Germany.

After numerating this sad litany, I decided to cheer myself up a bit before getting another fit of severe self-pity. And what’s better than doing some baking? Unfortunately, it can’t get any of my beloved ones closer to me but there is some consolation in the fact that they will be eating just the same cookies.

“Vanillekipferl” (Vanilla Crescents)

This recipe is a real classic. Its sweet vanilla scent is absolutely irresistible and the crunchy-crumbly feeling when biting into one of those – words can’t describe this… Another big advantage of this recipe is its versatility. The dough is pretty similar to the one of “Ischler Toertchen” (tartlets of Ischl, a town in Austria), another favourite cookie of mine. So I divided the dough into two halves and was able to make both types of cookies. This also saves you a considerable amount of time as intensive cookie baking can soon turn into some sort of kitchen slavery.

The ingredients

300 g flour
125 g sugar
1 sachet vanilla sugar (about a heaped tablespoon)
150 g ground almonds
250 g butter, cold, diced
3 egg yolks

Icing sugar, mixed with vanilla sugar

Sift flour onto your work surface, mix with sugar, vanilla sugar, and almonds.

Rub butter into the mixture, mix in egg yolks. Trying to work as fast as possible, knead until there are no butter lumps left. Chill the dough for at least 30 minutes (or put it into the freezer if you are in a hurry).

Form dough into two thin rolls (At this stage, you can save half of the dough for another purpose.). Try to get even strands but don’t roll the dough too long as it will fall apart. Cut dough strands into small pieces and form each into a small crescent. The middle part should be thicker than the ends.

Place crescents on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Make sure not to put them too close to each other as they will rise during the baking process. Fan bake at 150 degrees Celsius until light golden, approximately for ten to twelve minutes.

While still hot turn the crescents in a mixture of icing sugar and vanilla sugar until evenly coated. Handle with care, at this stage they can break easily.

The source

Hedwig Maria Stuber: Ich helf Dir kochen

“Ischler Toertchen” (Tartlets from Ischl)

As said before, you can easily use the dough from the vanilla crescents to save some time. However, the nutty almond flavour won’t be very strong because store-bought almond flour is usually made of peeled almonds. The original recipe calls for unpeeled almonds to be ground and that makes quite a difference.

The ingredients

140 g butter
140 g flour
70 g sugar
70 g unpeeled, ground almonds
Pinch of salt

Apricot jam
Chocolate glaze
Flaked almonds or peeled almond halves

Rub butter into mixture of dry ingredients. Working as fast as possible, knead until dough gets a smooth and even consistency. Chill for at least half an hour.

Roll out the dough using as little extra flour as possible. Cut out cookies using a flower shaped cookie cutter (I didn't have one so I used a heart-shaped one). Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and fan bake at 150 degrees Celsius until light golden.

Let cool and sandwich together with apricot jam. To get a spreadable apricot jam, heat the jam with a little water, stirring constantly. You can strain the jam to get rid of fruit pieces but this is optional.

Spread chocolate glaze on top of the sandwiched cookies and decorate with almonds halves or flaked almonds.

The hints

If you can’t get store-bought almond flour made of unpeeled almonds and don’t own a food processor, you could substitute half of the almonds with ground hazelnuts.

This is the Christmas version of “Ischler Toertchen”. The original calls for a chocolate butter cream to sandwich in between.

In case you want more cookies and fewer calories when eating one: Forget the sandwiching and just glaze single ones with chocolate.

And, of course, if you opt for the original recipe, you could turn this dough into vanilla crescents as well.

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