Thursday, December 11, 2008

Holiday Baking Part 2 - Lebkuchen (Big Cookies)

Yesterday I made beautiful cookies.

Today I made ugly ones!
These cookies have been made in my family at Christmas time for at least four generations. My great grandmother taught my nana how to make them. My nana taught my father how to make them and my father taught me. We have other traditional foods that we make at Christmas, but these are my favorite, so every year I take an afternoon to bake and think about my great grandmother whom I was lucky to have many years with. She moved to Canada from Denmark when she was young, in the 1920's I believe, and lived on a farm in New Brunswick with my great grandfather for the rest of her life.

The cookies are like rocks if you try to eat them as is. The only liquids in them are honey and smidge of lemon juice, so they will hurt your teeth if you chomp down on one. But, dip them in a hot cup of coffee or tea (4 seconds is the perfect amount of time) and they become soft and spongy. The icing melts a little and the center of the cookie is nice and chewy. Not to mention it sweetens your hot drink a little. I always like to let my tea cool for ten minutes or so before I drink it, so what better way to pass the time than with a cookie? They are a little bit spicy and a little bit sweet, one of my very favorite Christmas treats.

I wanted to share this family recipe so that hopefully some of you will add this to your Christmas baking list. Let me know if you do!

Recipe: Lebkuchen (Big Cookies)

Makes approximately 2 dozen


1 cup honey
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 beaten egg
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp lemon rind
1/3 cup chopped citron peel
1/3 cup almond slices
2 ½ cups flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp cloves

Bring honey to a boil, pour in a bowl and let cool.

Add sugar and remaining ingredients. Mix well and store overnight in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Turn out on floured board and roll out 1/2" thick and cut into 2” circles with a circular cookie cutter or a drinking glass. The dough will be sticky, so flour the rolling pin and board frequently to prevent sticking.

Space well apart on cookie sheet. Bake 8 to 12 minutes. Be careful not to burn. Cookies are done when one or two start to brown along the bottom edge.

When completely cool, ice with almond icing and decorate with almonds and citron. Serve with coffee or tea.

For the icing, I usually make sort of a poor man's buttercream. About 1/4 cup butter, 2 1/2 cups icing sugar, 1 tsp almond extract and enough milk to make it easy to spread, all mixed together until smooth but not until fluffy. Spread a thin layer on the cookie and allow the icing to harden. By not using as much butter/shortening as with a regular buttercream, it crusts much faster which is the effect you want.

I'm not sure if the boiling honey is an old way of pasturizing it for safety, or what the purpose is exactly, but I do it anyway. At the very least, having warm honey in the dough makes it much easier to stir, but I'm not sure it's actually necessary to bring it all the way to a boil.

I made two batches so I can leave out half a dozen or so for snacking before putting the rest in the freezer until Christmas.

So far my Christmas baking is shaping up nicely!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Holiday Baking Part 1 - Snowflake Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing


I waited as long as I could.

I've had the Christmas baking itch for weeks now and I haven't made anything. Finally, yesterday I decided it was close enough to start on the freezables.

It's snowing cookies!!!

Anyone who knows me knows that I go nuts for blue snowflake-y things at Christmas. I scour the stores for blue and silver wrapping paper with matching tags. I have snowflake decorations on my tree and throughout my apartment. With the exception of the decorations on my Christmas tree, my apartment is decked out in silver and blue for the holidays.

I'm going to be putting together gift baskets of baked goods for a lot of my loved ones this Christmas. I have gorgeous blue boxes with silver snowflakes that I found at Winners, and clear cellophane with blue snowflakes that I found at the dollar store, so I thought a snowflake cookie would tie it all together.

I've been wanting to make sugar cookies with royal icing for a while now, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity! I was inspired by the Wilton website to pick up one of their cookie cutters and start baking!

The cookies are plain sugar cookies, made using this recipe from The are amazing! I rolled them out to about 1/4" and they baked up light and fluffy. Perfection.

I used the royal icing recipe I learned in Wilton Course 2:

Recipe: Royal Icing

1 1/2 Tbsp meringue powder
2 cups icing sugar
2.5 Tbsp lukewarm water

Mix on low/medium speed with an electric mixer for 7 minutes. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth while working with icing because it dries out very quickly.

I separated 1/4 cup of the icing and coloured the rest with royal blue icing colour.

These took quite honestly the whole day to ice. My hands were absolutely aching by the end of it and for a while I thought I would have to split it over two days, but I stuck it out and made 40 gorgeous cookies. I am so impressed with how beautiful they turned out. I make a lot of cute foods but I think these are my favorite of anything I've ever made!

The cookies are not particularly sweet, so I find the sweetness and crunch of the icing complements the soft cookies perfectly.

To ice these babies, first I waited for the cookies to cool. Next, using a #2 tip, I piped the outline of the snowflake on each cookie in blue. I added a few teaspoons of water to the remaining blue frosting until it was of a pourable consistency, but not too thin. The trick is to add the water a teaspoon at a time and check it by pouring a spoonful of icing back into the bowl. If it melds into the rest of the icing in about 10 seconds, it's thin enough.

Next I piped the thinned blue icing inside the outlines using a #4 tip, and used a toothpick to smooth it out the edges to create the smooth blue surface. Don't worry if the surface doesn't look smooth at first. It smooths out as it dries and most of it will be covered with white anyway.

The last step is to pipe on the snowflake with the white icing after the blue had dried. I used the #2 tip for that as well and placed a silver ball in the center of each snowflake while the icing was still wet.

And that's it! Not to difficult, but very time consuming and hard on your hands.

So these guys will live in the freezer for the next two weeks and make their grand appearance at Christmas. I have at least two more types of cookies to make, so I will post them as I go.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Wilton Course 2 - Final Cake

As I've mentioned previously, my sister and I started taking Wilton cake decorating lessons at Michael's back in October. Last week we finished Course 2 and I was really happy with how my cake turned out, so I thought I would share.

The reason I started to take these courses was because I had tried making flowers out of icing and fondant a few times and wasn't having much luck, so I figured I could use some direction. In the first class we just covered the basics, but in Course 2 we focused almost entirely on making flowers from royal icing and learned a few new borders.

Here is the top of the cake. As always, click on the picture to get a closer look.
Lots of flowers! The roses, daffodils and daisies should be easy to pick out. The orange flowers are chrysanthemums, the large yellow and purples ones are pansies, the small purple ones are violets, the large pale pink ones are primroses, the small pink ones are apple blossoms and the tiny pink ones are rose buds. All of the flowers are done with royal icing, and the cake, leaves, borders and basketweave are done with buttercream (Don't tell my instructor, but I used my own buttercream recipe instead of the Wilton one!).

BF was impressed with how I balanced out the colours and arranged the flowers. He said he bets I learned those skills from making so many bento lunches.

Here is a side picture to show a flower arrangement on the side of the cake.And here's a front picture to show the basketweave around the sides of the cake as well as one of two run-out birds made from royal icing.

The royal icing recipe we used for the course consists only of icing sugar, meringue powder and water. The result is an icing that is stiff and holds its shape well as you mold it. It then hardens into a crunchy sort of candy. Some people don't enjoy the taste I guess, but I think it's yummy. Although this is the only icing we used for the flowers, I think a stiff butter cream would also work, although it might not hold all of the minute details. It would probably have to be kept cool as well so that it would hold its shape.

Overall, I'm really pleased with what I learned in this course and the value for the cost. The course itself was $21 and the course supplies kit was $40 but I had a 50% off coupon. I already had all of the rest of the decorating equipment I needed (piping bags, practice board, cake turntable, cake board) from Course 1 so it was just a matter of picking up a couple of bags of icing sugar. And now I know how to make gorgeous flowers! Course 3 isn't offered until January, so we get a month off (so I can get back to making cupcakes!!) and then we'll be back at it.

My understanding is that their are Michaels stores across North America, so I definitely recommend taking the classes if you have any interest in making pretty things with icing. It's an easy way to learn some new practical skills. Before I took the classes, piping swirls on cupcakes with a 1M tip was pretty much the extent of my cake decorating repertoire. I don't necessarily think that The Wilton Method is the be all/end all of cake decorating, but I do feel that the amount I've learned is definitely worth the 2 hours per week investment. Like anything in life though, I would suggest getting several different perspectives and choosing the method you like the best. For me that means using my own recipe for buttercream frosting and using a traditional variation on royal icing for icing run-outs rather than purchasing the Wilton Color Flow powder.

I love learning!

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