Baking in translation

Baking in Translation - Cinnamon almond oat cookies
Cinnamon almond oat cookies

Adjusting to a new kitchen, new tools and a new oven is always a challenge when settling into a new home. Add in the difficulties of a new language and new ingredients in a different country and things get even more complicated! The various measuring systems also throw in another dimension of complexity…

Fahrenheit or Celsius? Or whatever ‘gas mark‘ means? Metric or imperial? Grams or cups or ounces? Is a kitchen scale required? Or a set of measuring cups?

A few years ago my sister-in-law knocked me for a loop with the revelation that there are American and metric cups (a US cup is 240ml and a UK/Australian cup is 250ml) and now I take an extra moment to determine the nationality of a recipe author before blindly following their proportions.

While I grew up using volume measurements (cups and tablespoons) for dry ingredients, the system of weighing ingredients (using grams and a digital kitchen scale) now seems much simpler. I love the ease of plopping a bowl on the scale and zero-ing out the scale with every new ingredient I add. Although teaspoons and pinches still rule for smaller increments – measuring out a gram and a half just seems impossible!

Conversions between grams and ounces and cups (I use UK cups, being a Danish-based Canadian the commonwealth still holds sway) are inexact at best (these Cooking Equivalent Measurements can help), so I like it when recipe authors indicate what consistency or texture the dough or batter should have before baking. That way I know if I should adjust with a bit more flour or an extra shot of liquid.

Sometimes translating between languages for ingredients is a bit of work, too. Rest assured that caster sugar is the same as white, granulated sugar regardless of whether it’s spelled (or is that spelt?) with an ‘e’ or an ‘o’ (caster or castor) and most oatmeal (large-flake, rolled, Irish, Scottish or instant) will work in the majority of baked goods.

Here’s a super-simple recipe for several dozen delicious cookies using multiple systems of measurements. The batter is very sticky before it chills in the fridge, so don’t worry if it seems like the proportion of liquid to dry ingredients isn’t quite right. The melted butter (or margarine if you want to make the recipe dairy-free) cools quickly in the fridge and yields a much firmer dough.

Happy baking – and translating!

Cinnamon almond oat cookies

Ingredients

  • 85g (3oz or a heaped 1/2 cup) almonds
  • 100g (3 1/2oz or just under 1/2 pound) unsalted butter or margarine
  • 100ml (3 1/2oz or just shy of 1/2 cup) maple syrup
  • 140g (4 1/2oz or 1 cup + 1 tbsp) all purpose flour (regular white flour)
  • 1/4 tsp (1/25oz or 1.5g) baking soda (also known as bicarbonate of soda or sodium bicarb)
  • 110g (4oz or 1/2 cup) white sugar (also known caster/castor sugar or berry sugar)
  • 1 1/2 tsp (1/2oz or 6g) ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp (1/25oz or 1 1/2g) fine sea salt
  • 140g (5oz or 1 1/2 cups) rolled oats (the kind you’d make porridge with – not oat flour)
  • 1 egg
  • A small spoonful of cinnamon & a large spoonful sugar for rolling, if desired

Method

  • Toast the almonds in a pan over medium-low heat; when they are fragrant, but before they brown (about 8 minutes), remove from the heat and cool slightly before chopping
  • Preheat your oven to 180°C/350°F, using the convection setting if your oven has it, and line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper
  • Place the butter and maple syrup in saucepan over medium heat until the butter has melted; stir together and set the mixture aside to cool slightly
  • In a mixing bowl, stir together the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, sugar, cinnamon, salt and oats
  • Crack the egg into a small bowl and whisk with a fork; add a tablespoon of the butter/syrup mixture to the egg while stirring
    • This raises the temperature of the egg and ensures that it won’t turn into scrambled eggs when mixed with the warm butter and syrup – also known as tempering
  • Mix the tempered egg into saucepan with the remaining butter and maple syrup, stirring continuously until well-combined
  • Pour egg/butter/syrup mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients and gently combine
  • Stir in the chopped almonds until evenly distributed; the dough will be soft and sticky
  • Refrigerate the cookie dough for about 10 minutes to allow the mixture to firm up and become easier to handle
  • Roll teaspoons of the batter into balls (they should be about the size of unshelled walnuts) and roll in the cinnamon sugar mixture if you want
    • I like the extra cinnamon sugar, but the cookies are good without the extra step (and additional dirty dish!) of rolling them in addition spice and sweetness
  • Place the balls on baking sheets at least 2cm (1 inch) apart and gently flatten with a spoon or your finger
  • Bake in the preheated oven for about 12 minutes (15 minutes if not using a convection setting) until the cookies spread out and the edges are firm
  • After the cookies come out of the oven, allow them to cool on the baking sheet for a couple minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool
  • Makes about three dozen, two-bite-size cookies

Meringue over meditation

Easy hazelnut chocolate cookiesMy commitment to daily meditation in March faded almost immediately after my mid-March update – and my commitment to posting seems to have ended with it 😉 I have, however, been making an inordinate number of meringue-based treats! Spring has been all about whipping up egg whites to use in pavlovas or cookies.

These Nutella-inspired confections are based on an Italian recipe for Brutti ma Buoni (ugly but delicious) cookies that has just three ingredients (egg white, sugar, ground hazelnuts). I’ve added a bit of depth with vanilla extract (or vanilla sugar) and amped up the deliciousness by covering them with chocolate.

These really aren’t that ugly (especially when topped with chocolate!), but they sure are easy – and delicious! 🙂 If only committing to daily meditation was as delicious as meringue!

Hazelnut crunch cookies

Ingredients
  • 1 large egg white
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (if you have it available, use 3g vanilla sugar and cut down the regular sugar by 3g)
  • 100g (2/3 cup) ground hazelnuts (ground almonds also work)
  • 80g (1/3 cup + 1/2 tbsp) sugar
  • 80g (1/2 cup) baker’s chocolate (most chocolate chips contain wax and won’t melt well, so stay away from those)
Method
  • Preheat oven to 150°C (300°F) and line baking sheet with parchment
  • Beat egg white and salt in a bowl with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form
  • Combine sugar and nuts; then gently fold mixture into beaten egg whites
  • Spoon teaspoons of batter on baking sheet, making sure they have a little room to spread
  • Bake until golden brown – about 30 minutes
  • Remove cookies from baking sheets and cool on wire rack
  • Melt chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave
  • Dollop each cookie with a bit of melted chocolate and allow chocolate to set, which takes at least half an hour – you may need to hide the cookies in a cool location to keep from eating them while the chocolate is still soft 😉

Martinsmann pudding

Man-shaped pastry with red poppyWhile 11 November is Remembrance Day for Canadians (and Armistice or Veterans Day in other countries), it’s St. Martin’s Day in Germany. St Martin’s Day is the feast day for Martin of Tours and was one last great banquet before the start of Advent fasting in the middle ages.  In modern Germany, St Martin’s Day is known for roast goose (Martinsgans), lantern processions, and, in Mannheim, human-shaped pastries called Martinsmann.

We picked up a Martinsmann from our local bakery and were underwhelmed by its relative flavourlessness. Rather than waste the leftovers, I bumped them up with spices and apples in a bread pudding.

This recipe is modified from one I use for leftover hot cross buns at Easter. It works best with sweeter bread, but would be just fine with regular bread, too, although maybe with a little more sugar.

Partially eaten bread pudding

The bread pudding filled the kitchen with a lovely warm spicy smell, just like holiday baking – but it’s absolutely easier to make than gingerbread men or Christmas cookies 🙂 All the delicious smells with the ease of chopping up bread and stirring together milk, eggs, and spices!

The end result was so tempting that we devoured most of it before I snapped a photo 😉

We ate this bread pudding plain, but it would also be good with ice cream, whipped cream, or bourbon/whiskey sauce. Adding chopped apple keeps everything moist and makes a sweet, buttery, boozy sauce unnecessary – although not any less welcome!

And if you’re interested in the traditional Martinsgans, check out this roast goose recipe from Ginger & Bread.

Bread pudding with apples

Ingredients
  • 450g (1 pound) day old hot cross buns or leftover Martinsmann
  • 700ml (3 cups) milk (or a combination of milk and cream for a richer pudding)
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 75g (1/3 cups) sugar
  • 1 packet vanilla sugar (or 1 tbsp vanilla extract)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 of a large apple, chopped
  • 2 tbsp Demerara sugar (or other coarse sugar)
Method
  • Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F) and lightly grease an ovenproof casserole dish that will fit all the bread cubes
    • A 23cm (9″) square baking dish should do
  • Cut leftover bread into cubes (roughly 1cm square) and place in a large bowl
  • Whisk together milk, eggs, sugar, spices and vanilla; pour mixture over bread and stir until coated
  • Let the milk mixture and bread rest for 15 minutes; the bread should absorb most of the liquid
  • Gently stir in chopped apple and pour into casserole dish, pressing down the bread a bit
  • Sprinkle coarse sugar over top and dust with additional nutmeg and cinnamon if desired
  • Bake until pudding sets and the top is golden brown – about 1 hour
  • Eat while warm and serve with whipped cream, ice cream, or bourbon/whiskey sauce if you’d like

Pancakes & packing – part 1

We’re leaving our flat in Munich tomorrow for one more new-to-us German city. We’ve done a lot of relocating in the last year and I’ve definitely gotten better at not leaving good stuff in the pantry.

In order to clean out our cupboards over the last week (and because baking is one of my stress-relievers), I made ham & cheese loaf, applesauce muffins, two batches of brownies (one that failed miserably), and super-easy pancakes (recipe below).

These come together super-quickly (as you’d expect with pancakes) and don’t require any measuring equipment other than a teaspoon and a mug – very useful for ill-equipped kitchens, lazy cooks, and short-on-time mornings!

Sadly, I doubt there will be more pancakes tomorrow morning. Probably just last-minute packing, breakfasting on the remaining random bits in the fridge, and grabbing leftover ham & cheese loaf for the drive 😉

Berry-banana Pancakes

Banana berry pancakes with strawberriesIngredients
  • 1 mugful of flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 overripe banana
  • 1 mugful of milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 mugful of berries (if frozen, roll them in little flour before adding to the batter to prevent their colour from running too much)
  • butter for the pan (or nonstick cooking spray)
Method
  • Stir together flour, baking powder, spices, and salt
  • Mash banana and mix with egg and milk
  • Add wet ingredients to dry and combine; then gently stir in berries
  • Heat butter in pan over medium heat and spoon in dollops (about a large tablespoonful) of batter
  • Cook until golden brown on both sides
    • the first side is ready to flip when bubbles appear
    • the second side is ready when pancakes look and feel firm and slide easily on the pan
  • Serve with maple syrup, cut up banana if desired, and any remaining berries

‘Currant’ conditions

Three currant lemon muffins and some currantsMunich is rainy today and I’m feeling a little down; the perfect conditions for snuggling with a dog, reading a book, and noshing on homemade baking. Sofie’s got the cuddling taken care of, Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane is at the ready, and I’ve just pulled muffins out of the oven.

This is a modification of the world’s easiest vegan muffin recipe, adapted for what I had on hand. It’s not longer vegan, but still super-easy!

Fresh or frozen blueberries could easily stand in for the currants and subbing in orange juice and zest would be delicious. Cranberries would also work well.

Red currant & lemon muffins

Ingredients

  • 120ml (1/2 cup) milk
  • 80ml (1/3 cup) apple juice
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 240g (2 cups) unbleached all purpose flour
  • 100g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar, divided
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 150g (1 cup) fresh red currants
  • 2 tsp grated lemon zest

Method

  • Preheat oven to 200°C (400°F) and prepare 12 cup muffin pan (using paper or silicone liners or greasing with oil or butter)
  • Mix together milk, juice, oil, and egg with a whisk or a fork
  • In a separate bowl, combine flour, half the sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt
  • Add liquid mixture to flour mixture and stir until just combined (a few lumps are better than overmixing)
  • In a small bowl, combine currants, remaining sugar, and zest
  • Fold fruit mixture into batter
  • Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling each cup 2/3 full
  • Bake 15 – 20 minutes or until lightly browned and firm to the touch

Sofie looking comfy

Now to make a cup of tea and convince Sofie to share her comfy spot!

The sweetest sour

Three different bourbon soursThe weather this summer has been all over the place. Scorchingly hot, pelting with rain, muggy and cloudy, thundering like mad, and just about everything in between. Thankfully, my favourite cocktail pairs well with all weather and all seasons!

I’m a big fan of bourbon sours and I think I’ve perfected the proportions: two parts booze (bourbon), one part sour (lemon juice), and one part sweet (simple syrup).

I like them with just about any bourbon, from pricier options (like Woodford Reserve, which might be my all-time favourite) or common duty-free finds (like the Jack Daniels currently in my cupboard), to relatively inexpensive bottles (like Jim Beam).

The secret to matching the sour to the season is in the garnish.

Summer, with its plethora of produce, calls for raspberries or blackberries, a few leaves of basil, or (best of all) the rummed cherries from the recipe below. Fresh cranberries or a slice of apple are perfect for autumn. While maraschino cherries, a twist of orange zest, or a slice of lemon carry the drink into winter. And spring means a sprig of mint, a wedge of grapefruit, or an early strawberry.

Amp up the impact of any garnish by including some with the liquids, letting it rattle around and infuse as the drink comes together, straining it out with the shaker ice, and then anointing the final product with a non-shaken specimen.

The process of making a bourbon sour is pretty standard:

  • Put a few cubes of ice in a shaker (or Tupperware container if your kitchen isn’t bar-focused)
  • Add two parts bourbon and one part each lemon juice and simple syrup – along with a flavour-enhancer if desired
  • Shake thoroughly and strain into a glass with a couple ice cubes
  • Garnish as seasonally appropriate or enjoy unadorned

I always add the bourbon to the ice first and let it chill while I juice the lemon and measure the simple syrup, but I suspect there’s no wrong order – I just love the smell of bourbon when it hits the ice!

Freshly squeezed lemon juice is essential. Use room temperature lemons and roll them on the counter first to help release the juice. Then squeeze like the dickens. Do not use purchased lemon juice (like RealLemon) or, god forbid, bar lime (aka lime cordial). I once ordered a bourbon sour at a bar and it came out bright green – turns out bar lime was to blame. Ick.

The simple syrup really is simple to make:

  • Pour a cup of white sugar into a clean jar
  • Add a cup of very hot water
  • Slap on the lid and give it a mix
  • Let sit until the sugar is fully dissolved – shaking a few times
  • Store in the fridge

Making the rummed cherries is just about as easy… pitting the cherries is the hard part!

Rummed cherries

Ingredients

  • 50g (1/2 cup) soft brown sugar
  • 125ml (1/2 cup) water
  • 50ml (1 & 2/3 oz) fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • Half a vanilla pod, scored
  • 450g (1 pound) sweet cherries
  • 250ml (1 cup) rum (amber or dark work best)

Method

  • Wash and pit cherries (cursing as cherry juice splatters everywhere)
  • In a saucepan, combine all ingredients except cherries and rum and bring to boil; when liquid begins to boil, reduce heat to a light simmer
  • Add cherries and simmer for 5 minutes
  • Remove from heat and add rum
  • Transfer cherries to jars and cool completely at room temperature, about 2 hours
  • Refrigerate up to 2 weeks (they’ve never lasted beyond a weekend in my fridge!)

The cherries are a fantastic boozy topping for ice cream, an excellent garnish for drinks beyond sours (like piña coladas), and great paired with anything chocolate. The liquor makes a wonderful cocktail when mixed with a splash of vodka (or vanilla vodka for a sweeter concoction) and topped up with sparkling water.

Some drinks only seem appropriate at certain times of the year (like piña coladas on tropical vacations or rum and eggnog at Christmas), but I find a bourbon sour is perfect regardless of the season! They’re pretty simple to make, fun to garnish, and easy to drink… sometimes maybe a little too easy!

Celebrate with ice cream

Mint chocolate ice cream cakeOne of my favourite ways to celebrate someone is by making them an ice cream cake. In honour of one of my favourite person’s birthdays today and because I no longer have a springform pan, I thought I’d share… and maybe inspire an ice cream celebration!

The process of creating an ice cream cake is easy – all it takes is smoothing layers of softened ice cream into a springform pan – it’s just time-consuming. Often the hardest part involves standing in the ice cream aisle at the grocery store deliberating which flavours would go best together, taking into account which brands are on sale and the preferences of the cake recipient.

The cake in the photo is mint chocolate (great combination!); I’ve also had success with chocolate cherry, caramel chocolate, and straight up chocolate. I haven’t used the same flavours twice and haven’t tried anything not chocolate-based.

Layered ice cream cake

The proportions are a little loose as I’ve never really measured and I tend to buy more ice cream than necessary – it’s not a bad thing to have some leftover 🙂

Ingredients

  • Day-old brownies and/or crushed wafer cookies (or purchased cookie crumbs) for the crust and, if desired, between layers
  • At least three different flavours of ice cream (minimum 1.5 litres total for most sizes of springform pans), preferably in contrasting colours and complimentary flavours
  • Chocolate, fudge, or caramel sauce for the top of the cake and/or between layers – or homemade ‘chocolate shell’ (recipe below)
  • Candies, nuts, and/or sprinkles if desired for the top of cake and between layers

Method

  • Wrap the bottom of a springform pan with foil (to prevent leaks) and clear out space in the freezer for the pan to sit perfectly flat
  • Press crumbled brownies into the bottom of a springform pan, creating an even crust (if using cookie crumbs, mix them with a little melted butter or softened coconut oil to get the crust to stick together); put the crust-filled pan in the freezer for 5-10 minutes to firm up
  • Soften ice cream for the first layer by removing it from the carton and leaving it in a bowl on the counter at room temperature for about 20 minutes; when the ice cream is soft enough to allow it, beat it into smooth creaminess with a wooden spoon and a lot of arm power
    • Don’t overdo it, though, you want it spreadable, not soupy!
  • Using a spatula, spread the first layer of softened ice cream onto the crust, tapping the pan onto the counter to work out air bubbles; put in the freezer for an hour before adding the next layer
  • Repeat with additional layers of ice cream – softening each flavour before beating it and smoothing it into the pan; then letting each layer freeze for an hour before adding the next one
    • If you’d like to have fillings between the layers, freeze the ice cream for only 20 minutes before sprinkling on cookie crumbs, brownie bits, nuts, or other toppings so the toppings stick to the ice cream; then re-freeze for a full hour
    • If you’d like caramel, chocolate, or fudge between the layers, use a gooey sauce that won’t get too hard when it’s frozen and let the cake freeze for an hour before and after smoothing on the sauce
  • Once you’ve added all the layers of ice cream (and any sauce or fillings between the layers) freeze for at least 8 hours to allow everything to set
  • To unmold the cake, first slightly soften the ice cream using either use a hair dryer on the edges of the springform pan or by lowering the still tightly foil-wrapped pan into a few inches of hot water, then undo the ‘spring’ and gently wiggle off the sides of the pan; place the unmolded cake back in the freezer for at least an hour
  • Cover the top of the cake with chocolate, fudge, or caramel sauce if desired and decorate with bits of brownies, cookies, candies, nuts, and/or sprinkles; place the decorated cake in the freezer for another couple hours
  • Let the cake sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes before cutting using a metal knife run under hot water to help it slide through the ice cream
  • Eat, enjoy, and look forward to the next celebration you can use as an excuse to make an ice cream cake!

Homemade ‘chocolate shell’

  • 7 oz chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil

Place chocolate and coconut oil in a double boiler; heat over water on medium high until fully melted, stirring frequently. Set aside to cool for 5-10 minutes before pouring over ice cream… or ice cream cake!