Weihnachtsplätzchen (German Biscuit Christmas Cookies) | Germany

Try saying that blog title five times fast.

Go ahead – I triple dog dare ya!

Life has been busy lately; practically every weekend this fall we had something going on, whether it was birthday parties or family and friends visiting or community happenings, which relegated this poor little blog to a dusty corner of the web.

Well, despite the fact that this time of year is notoriously crazy because of a little event we like to refer to as “The Holidays,” I decided that it was finally time to clear the cobwebs off this wee little blog and get back to it. Plus, The Holidays are typically the time when I’m already working myself into a baking frenzy, so I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone.

That’s exactly what I was going for when I decided to make Weihnachtsplätzchen, which are simple, traditional German Christmas cookies. I found the recipe in the book Classic German Baking by Luisa Weiss, a delightful tome full of traditional German baking recipes. Despite its title, it was published fairly recently and has some great background information and history about German baking. Which means…this will not be the last you’ll see of recipes from this book!

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Truth Time: I had actually checked this book out from my local library awhile ago before I started this blog and didn’t think much of it – at the time I was busy with work and didn’t think I could devote a lot of time or energy to the recipes. When I returned to the library to find new sources to pull from for the blog, I decided to give Classic German Baking another chance, and I’m so glad I did!

When I mentioned to my husband – who, might I add, took several years of German and knows the language fairly well – that I wanted to make Weihnachtsplätzchen, he looked at me with a confused look on his face. That was my first clue that I completely butchered the pronunciation of the word (I think I said something like “WINE-KNOCKED-SPLATS-CHEN” when it should have been “VINE-NAHKT-SHPLET-CHIN”….I think…). Weihnachts means Christmas, and plätzchen means biscuit cookie.

Put them together and you have….Christmas Biscuit Cookie!

According to the author, “every German baker has a recipe for simple Christmas cookies in her or his archive.” This one was a thin biscuit cookie that was flavored with lemon and incorporated European-style butter, which has a higher fat content than American butter (I used Kerrygold). There were a few options for the glaze for the top of the cookies, including using rum, kirsch, glacé cherries, or raspberry jam, but I chose to keep it simple with a lemon sugar glaze.

First, I mixed the flour and butter in a large bowl and worked it with my hands until it resembled coarse meal. The author said that she tried using all purpose as well as a blend of whole wheat and all purpose flours, and both worked well – I took her word for it and decided to use the blend. In a separate bowl, I whisked together powdered sugar, baking powder, grated lemon peel and salt. In yet another bowl (because two just weren’t enough!), I whisked together an egg yolk, whole milk, and vanilla extract.

I combined everything together in the large bowl and worked it with my hands. The dough came together a bit more crumbly than I would have liked, likely due to the fact that I used the flour blend instead of just all-purpose flour, so I added in more milk than the recipe called for (a tablespoon at a time until it came together smoothly). Once the dough was ready, I wrapped it into a ball and stuck it in the fridge for an hour so it would be easier to work with.

I then rolled out the dough and used my super awesome Christmas cookie cutters procured from a Target 75% off post-holiday sale from years’ past to cut out some shapes. Then I stuck them into a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes (it was clearly spelled out that the temperature was Fahrenheit instead of just Celcius, which as an American I very much appreciated). Once the cookies were cooled, I added the lemon glaze and some fun sprinkles to spread some holiday cheer.

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As far as taste – they were freaking delicious. Without the glaze they honestly didn’t look that appetizing, and I was concerned that they would be crunchy and dry with the consistency of a cracker. Oh no – they were nowhere near that texture. They were velvety-smooth, and slightly crumbly but just enough to remind you that you’re eating a cookie. They literally fell apart in my mouth in the most amazing way possible. The lemon added the right amount of sour to counteract the sweetness from the cookie and glaze. We had to stop ourselves from gobbling all of them up in five minutes flat…they were that tasty!

This is a great recipe to make with kids – my 5-year-old son helped me practically every step of the way and had a blast. He especially enjoyed glazing and decorating the cookies. Bonus: I got to share with him a piece of his culture as well, which really is the point of doing all of this!

What cookies are you making for the holidays? Using any traditional ancestral recipes? Please share – I want to hear all about it!

This recipe was made and adapted from the book Classic German Baking

Rotkohl (Sweet & Sour Red Cabbage) | Germany

Red cabbage has intrigued and intimidated me for many years.

It’s likely because I’ve used regular cabbage in the past for other recipes, and have become overwhelmed by how ginormous they are. I’d use a quarter of the cabbage for whatever recipe I was trying that day, and still have more than enough leftover to feed a small army.

Lately I’ve been trying to give red cabbage a fairer shake because it’s healthy, and well…it’s pretty! Apparently it’s loaded with nutrients, most notably Vitamin K, which helps your blood clot, which is reassuring since it can be cumbersome to chop something as large as a cabbage.

I’ve been increasingly using red cabbage lately to make homemade slaw and salads, but then would run into the same problem I did with its less aesthetically-pleasing counterpart – I’d use about half of the head of cabbage and ended up with a ton leftover, and no idea of what to do with the rest of it other than to make more slaw or salad. Which I guess are decent options, but my taste buds tend to get bored and require variety, so I needed something else to make with it to tickle my fancy.

That’s when the proverbial lightbulb went off in my head: why not make Rotkohl with the rest of it?

Rotkohl is essentially sweet and sour red cabbage that’s been cooked so long that it practically melts in your mouth. I’ve had it at many German restaurants, and was amazed at how delicious something as simple as red cabbage could be. It’s served as a side dish, and, unlike sauerkraut, it’s tender and sweet with a slight tang, and makes for a perfect complement to sausage or schnitzel, or really any traditional German fare.

I tried, in vain, to find a cheap and quick fix whenever a craving for this delicacy hit, since German restaurants – though delicious and providing generous portions – tend to be a bit on the pricier side. I tried bottled red cabbage that I found at my local grocery store, but was sorely disappointed that it wasn’t nearly the same flavor level as what I had encountered at German restaurants.

So, I decided to try making it from scratch. However, the recipes I found were either super complicated or took forever – or both. After that realization, I tucked my red cabbage making dreams away like an old knitting project, hopeful that I’d pull it back out and execute it once I was ready.

Earlier this month, since this blog gave me an excuse to finally try it out…I was ready. I had half a head of red cabbage leftover from making a slaw for pork sliders, a Rotkohl recipe (I used this one from the Daring Gourmet), a dream, and some chutzpah. I was finally going to make my red cabbage fantasies come true!

There was one small problem: I couldn’t find the Juniper berries that the recipe called for, which provide a pine-like essence that adds a depth of flavor to the dish. Anywhere. I found elderberries. I found allspice berries. I found gogi berries. But Juniper berries? Like a sneaky and sly fox, they hid from me, with the promise of local availability via Google searches turning out to be quite false.

Since I’m what my father affectionally calls a “Stubborn German,” I couldn’t leave well enough alone, and it became an obsessive and epic search for these damn berries. After looking all over Kingdom Come and almost giving up hope, one morning I was passing a Whole Foods, and decided to stop in and check since I needed a tomato, and thought “Why the hell not? One last try.”

Well, in the spice aisle of this magical Whole Foods, I finally found the final piece to my red cabbage recipe puzzle. I swear that I saw a light shine on the bottle of Juniper berries, and heard the faint echo of the “Hallelujah” chorus.

I brought the bottle of Juniper berries home, excited to finally get started, when I took another look at the recipe and realized that I didn’t have a tart apple that the recipe also called for.

After lots of facepalming and swearing on my part, I obtained a couple of Granny Smith apples from my neighborhood grocer (those, thankfully, were far easier to find!), and finally got to work in the kitchen.

The recipe itself is actually fairly easy to execute – you heat 1/4 cup of butter (I actually reduced that amount to 2.5 tablespoons, since I thought a 1/4 cup was way too much) in a large pot and brown one diced onion for a few minutes. Then, you add in the sliced cabbage and cook for about five minutes. After the cabbage and the onion get a little “happy,” add the diced apple, vegetable broth, bay leaf, cloves, Juniper berries, red currant jam, red wine vinegar, sugar and salt (I chose to omit the jam since it was optional, and after the Great Search for Juniper Berries, I was pretty much over trying to locate specialty items).

Then, you bring everything to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

You’re probably wondering: was all of this searching, all of this chopping, all of this waiting for a couple of hours for it to cook down – was it worth it?

In two words: Hells. Yes.

We ate it as a side dish to accompany roasted carrots and the leftover pork roast that I had made in the slow cooker the day before. After tasting the familiar tender and sweet morsels of red cabbage that I had previously only  experienced in a restaurant setting, a childlike grin spread across my face, and I exclaimed to my family: “Oh yeah…this is it. This is the stuff.” My husband, after tasting it himself, heartily agreed, and my kid…well, he was being a “Stubborn German” that day, and wasn’t really interested.

But that was okay. More for me!

Sweet Potato, Asparagus and Bacon Hash | Germany, Norway, Scandinavia

I’ve been making hashes for years. Usually they consist of some potatoes or other starchy vegetable, onions, bell peppers, green veggies, eggs, and breakfast meat. It’s a fabulous way to get a lot of the major food groups onto one plate to help fuel your day.

Do they look super fancy and exciting? To be honest…no, they really don’t. Actually, sometimes they look pretty disgusting and usually resemble something akin to what a dog or a cat should eat. Our son would often look at the plate of hash in front of him and glance up at us in disbelief, wondering what transgression earned him such a crappy meal. But, it’s a great way to use up whatever veggies and breakfast meats that are languishing in the fridge, and it’s super easy to make.

And trust me….hashes taste a hell of a lot better than they look!

When reading through The New Nordic: Recipes from a Scandinavian Kitchen, I came across a recipe for Pyttipanna. Looking at the photo accompanying the recipe, I thought to myself “Wow, that looks a lot like hash!” Turns out, it was indeed hash! In the recipe notes, the author explained that it, in Swedish, Pyttipanna means “scraping together” ingredients, the idea being “that you bring together leftover meat and vegetables in a pan for a hearty meal.”

Have I really been making hash for all of these years without knowing that my ancestors likely made the same thing, albeit in a slightly different way? It certainly seems like it, although in the course of my research on this subject, I had to sort through lots of websites that concentrated on the other hash (aka: marijuana).

Here’s what I found: In Norway, it’s called Pyttipanne, and it’s the same concept as the Swedish version – essentially, gather whatever leftover ingredients you have laying around, throw them in a pan with some eggs and cheese, and voilà: a hearty, healthy, and satisfying meal. The German equivalent is called Labskaus, which is commonly made with beef or corned beef, onions and boiled potatoes, and then fried in lard. Beetroot and herring also are often added to the hash, or served as a side dish. (source)

This past week has been a bit emotionally draining. We had a dear family member pass away unexpectedly last week, so I’ve been putting forth an effort to make healthier and heartier meals for me and my family so we’re all well fed and strong enough to deal with the emotional rollercoaster of the past week. Food doesn’t just nourish our bodies; it also feeds our souls, which is exactly what we all need right now.

To be completely honest, I totally made up this recipe, and although it’s not super-authentic Norsk or German, it is a hash that I often enjoy making and eating.

Here’s what I do: I fry up a pound of bacon cut into small pieces. After draining a majority of the bacon fat and adding about a tablespoon of butter to the pan, I throw in cubed sweet potatoes and cook for a few minutes until tender, but not mushy. After that, I add in cut asparagus, and cover for about five minutes to allow it to steam the vegetables. I then return the cooked bacon to the pan and season everything with salt and pepper to taste, and then crack four or five eggs and scramble them into the mixture. I finish with some shredded cheddar cheese on top, because cheese is amazing.

I’ve put other veggies, like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and even beets into this kind of hash before with great results. I’ve also used sausage, but I feel like bacon lends itself better to hashes. Plus, c’mon…bacon is freaking delicious, and if you don’t like it, I’d have to question your sanity.

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