Baker’s Dozen

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Hello friends!

The flour dust has settled – our Vanha Talo Suomi 2018 Christmas weekend-long baking marathon has concluded. Having spent more than 12.5 hours, spread over two days I was a very tired baker come Sunday afternoon!  Add in an additional hour spent in October preparing the Lebkucken dough rounds up the total hours preparing & baking traditional German Christmas cookies at 13.5! Yield this year: 30 dozen+

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Looking very dark & mysterious is the delicious fruit-filled nutty goodness -otherwise known as Lebkucken. Decorated with sugary icing and an almond sliver they are excellent by themselves, but even better with coffee -or my favorite chai tea or Christmas tee. The spices in the tea draw upon the same flavors within the cookie, which enhances the spiced experience.

I used Black Strap molasses this year – straight from the USA which produced a much darker appearance than the lighter golden brown achieved using regular molasses of previous years.  Every year, I incorporate dates into the recipe too, which is a departure from a few recipes I’ve seen. Also, our family’s tradition of cutting the cookies into rectangles instead of dropping by rounds seems to be a common preference among Lebkucken makers.

Known as a spiced cake, the thickness of the cookie contributes to the flavor. If rolled out too thin, the cookie become a little tough to bite into. Overall, the flavor is rich, a bit chewy, somewhat like gingerbread but much more dense- and with fruit & chopped walnuts!

Try them yourself! They are the easiest of the 3 cookies I make. Be forewarned: thick sticky dough such as Lebkucken & Pfeffernüsse are tough to stir! Bring a solid wooden spoon to this match for greater success! (P.S. I mix mine 2 months in advance & store the dough in a cool place until the 1st weekend of December to let the spices meld.)

learn more about Lebkuckens here: What is a Lebkucken?

Next up is the lovely pale Springerele – the belle of the ball in Christmas cookie-land! While being a bit labor-intensive, the creations are quite lovely, aromatic & delicious – which all help take away some of the bother.

The main features of the Springerle cookie are the anise flavoring (plus anise seeds on the bottom as I make them) and of course the lovely intricate designs pressed into the tops. The keys to a successful design remaining on top require preparing the dough correctly, using Baker’s Ammonia– sometimes referred to as Salt of Hartshorn (if you can find it) and storing the pressed cookies overnight to let the designs ‘harden & stiffen up.’

As a leavening agent – bakers attest to the benefits of using baker’s ammonia rather than basic baking soda. I am not a chemist, but it’s maybe worth noting that Baker’s Ammonia can only be obtained from a licensed pharmacy here in Finland! Thankfully a small packet doesn’t cost very much & I buy a fresh packet every year.

Some photos to demonstrate the Springerle making process.

For more on: What is a Springerle?

Last year with friends coming to visit whose diet regime prohibits grains, I made a batch of Pfeffernüsse using Gluten-free flour and they were a huge hit.  Actually, I made the recipe again later using regular flour and they were horrible! This year, I went ahead with another batch using the gluten-free flour & voilà  All was as it should be! My suggestion: make these using gluten-free flour!

Containing several of the same spices as Lebkucken, including the same molasses & honey liquid components – the departure comes with the inclusion of PEPPER and ground cloves in the case of Pfeffernüsse. Both of these ingredients give the cookie its tantalizing ZING! Don’t be put off until you’ve tried one! They are both delicious and addictive! You will come back to these again and again. Dusted with powder-sugar adds to the flavor sensation – your taste buds will be over-joyed to munch on these cookies.

Baked for just 10 minutes, mine tend to be a wee soft in the center, which in our experience only helps to maximize their consumption! Baked too long and you’ve got a dry nugget. Not much appeal compared to the optimal soft centered ones coming from my oven!

The only thing difficult about these is the mixing. Even an electric mixer will eventually bog down under the demand of this dough. Caution: to avoid a blown mixer motor, I blend any/all of my dough for as long as I can, then pull out the heavy wooden spoon and give my arm muscles a flex.

The tedious task of pinching & rolling up little balls will idle away a good hour of your life at least! Out of the oven, set on racks to cool – I them toss them one by one in a small sack filled with powdered sugar. Toss, tap off the excess, and repeat another hundred times! Easy! 🙂

I’ve packaged up quantities of all three, bundled them as safely as I can in protective shipping wrap and nestled in shipping boxes which will be carried to the post as soon as I finish this entry.  On their way soon to remind a couple people how much I love them and hold them dear.

There are thousands of ways to express thanks, love & appreciation at Christmastime and through the year. For me, nothing says that quite as well as a homemade, old fashioned Christmas cookie.  Live your traditions -they will fill you with joy.

Peace friends! Until next time ❤ Vanha Talo Suomi