Month: December 2015

Germany’s Schneeball – A cookie snowball dating back 300 years

 

A window display  at the Diller Schneeball bakery in Heidelberg.

A window display at the Diller Schneeball bakery in Heidelberg.

The Schneeball, a German delicacy that dates back 300 years.

The Schneeball, a German delicacy that dates back 300 years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While walking down the main street of shops in Heidelberg, Germany, a store window full of what looked like many sorts of snowballs, covered in chocolate, nuts, puzzled me, candy.

Inside, I was lucky to meet Julia Diller, the daughter of the owner of the famous German chain, Diller de Schneeballenknig

“What is a Schneeball?” I asked her.

Julia told me that a Schneeball was made of pieces of dough, turned into a ball and deep fried. The recipe is old and traditional, particularly in the town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany where different shops and bakeries produce this traditional sweet and sell it in bakeshops. Julia’s grandfather was a baker by trade, and her father continued the tradition. He was the first to add creative touches to the old Schneeball recipe, a modern take that soon caught on in popularity. He started the custom of dipping it in chocolate and has now added all sorts of toppings and fillings, resulting in twenty-nine varieties of the Schneeball. Their family has shops in numerous cities in Germany and more information can be found on the website: http://www.schneeballen.eu/wir-ueber-uns.html

Julia Diller ready to give us a taste of a Schneeball.

Julia Diller ready to give us a taste of a Schneeball.

Julia really grabbed my attention when she told me that the Schneeball has been around for three hundred years. She told me that this method of making pastry was used during the Thirty Years’ War in Europe, as a way for soldiers to carry food that would keep for many weeks. (This must be information that has been passed down through Julia’s family, because it is a rare day that I cannot back it up with any information on Google.)

It became a popular treat eaten at wedding celebrations as far back as 300 hundred years.

Julia explained that an Schneeball has always been made with common ingredients that most people had in their larder. Eggs, flour, sugar, baking powder and spices were the basic ingredients. Other recipes include cream, butter and plum schnapps. The dough is made, rolled out and cut in strips. The strips are formed into a mould and deep fried. Then the fun begins with the dipping and fillings.

Gazing through the showcase in the shop, the sky was the limit on making these sweet treats desirable.

What a food history discovery I made that day. A trendy looking shop, selling a sweet treat that has been around for three hundred years.

The Schneeball that fed those of the past keeps rolling into the future.

I found food history around every corner on a recent trip to Germany, Switzerland, and France, so stayed tuned for a rash of interesting articles.

Next….Learning to make cheese – The old way.

 

Swiss Cookies with History

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Bern Cracknels – Swiss cookie making with a Mould

Lori, my friend, brought out her cast iron cookie mould. She was proud to own this and carries on the tradition of making these special Swiss treats each Christmas to share with her family. This very heavy cooking pan was originally made in Switzerland, travelled to Canada and had been passed down to her from her Swiss mother-in-law. I had visions of this mould being used over a wood stove on a snowy night in a small village in Switzerland. And children waiting to eat the results as quickly as they came out of the mould.

These delicate thin biscuits are made from a dough that is baked on a stove top in a cast iron press. When they are cooked to just the right temperature on each side, the biscuits emerge from the press with delicate designs imprinted on the surface. The taste is just as delicate.

After some research, I learned that this style of making cookies has many names. In Switzerland, they are called Bratzelli, Bratzil, Bretzel, Brezel or in this case, Bern Cracknels. They are similar in appearance to an Italian wafer cookie called a pizzelle, also with several spellings. Pizzelle is made with a batter, but Bratzelli is made with a dough. According to my reading, many cultures have used this method for making the delicate biscuits and adapted it in their own way. In Scandinavian countries, they are known as Lukken.

In modern times, electric presses have been designed to make the cooking easier, but we were privileged to use an old, elegant press from Switzerland that made the experience come to life. It took us awhile to learn the art of timing and when to flip the mould but one we had learned we had mastered a new skill from the past.

Here is the recipe we used to make our Cracknels, also known as Bratzelli.

Bern Cracknels 

  • 500 grams butter
  • 500 grams sugar 
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 packet vanilla sugar 
  • 2 coffeespoons cherry brandy 
  • 1 pinch salt
  • zest of lemon 
  • 4 cups and extra flour if needed.

Cream butter, alternately add sugar and eggs then other ingredients. Fold in flour and knead. Let dough stand 2 hours. Form balls and place on moulds. Sufficient for 360 cracknels.

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The delicate designs on the mould (spelling as used in the recipe)

The dough is formed into balls and placed in the centre of each design and the mould  is closed. After a short time, the mould is turned over on the burner.

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The mould is opened to reveal the golden brown biscuits which are lifted and placed on a flat surface. The cracknels quickly become crispy.

This was a wonderful experience of cooking a Swiss delicacy on a mould full of history that has travelled all the way to Canada.

White House Confections from the Past

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A WHITE HOUSE CONFECTION – 1887

FRENCH VANILLA CREAM

 From my previous post of Christmas sweets from the kitchen of a Smokey Mountain mama, today we join the cooks of  the White House in 1887, when the President of the United States was Grover Cleveland.Today’s confection is included in the menu for Christmas Day 1887.

Thanks to my sister-in-law, I was loaned a copy of The Original White House Cook Book 1887 Edition. This book was co-authored by Mrs.F.L.Gillette and Hugo Ziemann and was reprinted in 2003 by Media Solution Services.

 I chose the recipe for French Vanilla Cream, an easy way to make an uncooked candy. This way of making candy is traditional and lends itself to many variations. Here is the recipe as found in the  The Original White House Cook Book, 1887 Edition. 

                                                    French Vanilla Cream 

“Break into a bowl the white of one 0r more eggs, as the quantity you will require;add to it an equal quantity of cold water, then stir in XXX powdered sugar or confectioner’s sugar until you have it stiff enough to mold into shape with the fingers. Flavor with vanilla to taste.  After it is formed in balls, cubes, or lozenge shapes, lay them upon plates or waxed paper, and set them aside to dry. This cream can be worked in candies similar to the French cooked cream. “

The 1887 Christmas Day menu is included in this book. It is a grand feast and the confections (candies and sweets) are included in the dessert course of Christmas Plum Pudding and Sauce, Vanilla Ice Cream, Mince Pie, Orange Jelly, Delicate Cake, Salted Almonds, Confectionary, and Fruits. 

This fascinating cook book also includes recipes “for the sick” ,”toilet tips,” and a chapter entitled, “Small Points on Table Etiquette”.

The first sentence in the Etiquette section reads, “Delicacy of manner at the table stamps both man and woman, for one can, at a glance, discern whether a person has been trained to eat well-i.e.to hold the knife and fork properly, to eat without the slightest sound of the lips, to drink quietly, to use the napkin rightly, to make no noise, with any of the implements of the table, and last, but not least, to eat slowly and masticate the food thoroughly.”

For just a moment, close your eyes and imagine yourself among the silver, crystal and candles of the White House, as you dine on these sweet treats this holiday season. Then open your eyes and appreciate your home and family, wherever you live.

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Aunt Maggie’s Spiced Jini Cakes

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Now for a special cookie from the Smokey Mountains of Virginia, Aunt Maggie’s Spiced Jini Cakes.  Not a fancy delicate cookie but rather a taste that was inspired by what Aunt Maggie had within reach in her kitchen.

I found this recipe in Secrets of the Great Old Timey Cooks – Historic Recipes, Lore and Wisdom by Barbara Swell. This impressive collection of recipes, and cures is adorned with photos of life in the 1920’s and 30’s in the Smokey Mountains of the United States. Barbara states, ” There’s a fire that still burns in the soul of these great cooks.”

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This recipe was found in a handwritten, recipe book yellowed, tattered and stained that belonged to Barbara Swell’s grandmother. The best kind of recipe book. Aunt Maggie, the woman who wrote the recipe was a neighbour of her grandparents and lived in Salem, West Virginia. There is no date on this recipe but it is old and well loved. It is the kind of every day cookie that might also have been made for Christmas. This unusual recipe makes a tasty cookie that combines spices, coffee, chocolate, coconut and apples with the usual ingredients .

I’ll share the recipe from this book to inspire others to pull out the mixing bowl and fill the house with the aroma of freshly baked cookies.

Aunt Maggie’s Spiced Jini Cakes

  • 2 cups sugar                      2 chopped apples 
  • 1 cup shortening               3 cups flour 
  • 2 eggs                                    1/2 cup cold coffee
  • 1 cup coconut                      1/2 tsp. salt, cloves, nutmeg 
  • 1 tsp. each of soda, cocoa, cinnamon, and vanilla 

Beat sugar, shortening, eggs, and vanilla until fluffy. Sift dry ingredients and add to creamed mixture alternately with coffee. Stir in coconut and apples. Drop by spoonful onto greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees until done. ( If you don’t like coffee, you can substitute milk, buttermilk or sour cream. 

Thanks to Barbara Swell  for sharing that tasty recipe from your grandmother’s recipe collection.

Fort York’s Little Fine Cakes

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As I sit in my kitchen waiting for my Little Fine Cakes to finish baking, I pour a coffee and imagine myself as a Fort York officer. It is a cold snowy night before Christmas and I have  just overseen the changing of the soldiers in the guardhouse. I push open the heavy wooded door of the Officer’s Mess and am greeted by the aroma of my favourite, Little Fine Cakes. The cook has just pulled them from the bake oven beside the fire in the open hearth fireplace.

The officers of Fort York ate well, I learned from the book “Setting a Fine Table” edited by Elizabeth Baird and  Bridget Wranich. A cooking course I took at Fort York also gave me a feel for cooking over the open hearth and the challenges faced by those who cooked for the officers in the early 1800’s.

The Little Fine Cakes is a recipe featured in Setting a Fine Table. Here is the original that dates back to 1796.

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Here is the modern equivalent of the recipe given in the recipe book.

  • 2 1/2 cups ( 625 ml) currants
  • 2 cups (500 ml) unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 2 medium egg yolks
  • 4 cups(1 L) all purpose flour

Grease 24 muffin cups. Line the bottom of each with parchment paper cut to fit.

Soak the currants in hot water for 5 minutes. Drain and spread out to dry on a towel-lined tray, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat the butter until very fluffy and cream- coloured and glossy, about 10 minutes. Beat them into the butter mixture in 2 additions.

Stir the currants, then the flour, I cup (250 ml) at a time, into the butter mixture. Spoon into the prepared muffin cups.

Bake in the centre of a 350 degree oven until the cakes are golden brown and firm on the top and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool in the pans on a rack for 10 minutes. Loosen the cakes with a blunt knife and turn them onto the rack to cool completely.

Fort York brings this period of history to life over the Christmas season each year.

In 2015, Fort York offered History Cooking Classes including: 

  • Cooking Mince Pies in November
  • A Frost Fair in early December
  • The Holiday Season from Dec. 14 to Dec.31/15
  • Gingerbread Make and Bake ( for both children and adults) from December 14 – Dec.31/15

For more information:

www.fortyork.ca/news-a-events/events.html
Setting a Fine Table – edited by Elizabeth Baird and Bridget Wranich
Published by Whitecap and available at Fort York

Abraham Lincoln’s Gingerbread Cookies

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This Christmas I decided to bake cookies with a history. That’s dining out with history, at home. 

I found endless recipes from my historic cookbook collection and there are many Living History Sites to visit that celebrate the history of baking cookies from whatever ingredients our ancestors had available. Here is a touching story about a popular Christmas cookie.

Abraham Lincoln wrote this story about his mother’s gingerbread cookies.

“When we lived in Indiana,” Lincoln said, “once in a while my mother used to get some sorghum and ginger and make some gingerbread. It wasn’t often and it was our biggest treat. One day I smelled the gingerbread and came into the house to get my share while it was it was still hot. My mother had baked me three gingerbread men. I took them out under a hickory tree to eat them. 

There was a family neat us poorer than we were and their boy came along as I sat down. ‘Abe,’ he said, “gimme a man.’ I gave hime one. He crammed it into his mouth in two bits and looked at me while I was biting the legs off my first one. ‘Abe, gimme that other’n.’ I wanted it myself, but I gave it to him and as it followed the first, I said to him,’You seem to like gingerbread.’ ‘Abe,’ he said, ‘I don’t s’pose anybody on earth likes gingerbread better’n I do- and gets less’n I do ….”  From “The Prairie Years” by Carl Sandburg 

Here is an old Gingerbread Cookie recipe to try. I left my cookies unadorned as I supposed Abraham Lincoln’s mother would not have iced her cookies.

Orange Gingerbread from Cook Not Mad, Kingston,1831 

Two pounds and a quarter fine flour, a pound and three quarters molasses, twelve ounces of sugar, three ouces un-dried orange peel chopped fine, one ounce each of ginger and allspice, melt twelve ounces of butter, mix the whole together, lay it by for twelve hours, roll it out with as little flour as possible, cut it in pieces three inches wide, mark them in the form of checkers, with the back of a knife, roll them over with a yelk of an egg, beat with a teacup of milk, when done wash them again with the egg.