This is a type of bread we see often this time of the year, because it looks so festive, but it is actually quite simple to make. The filling can be sweet (think Nutella, caramel, raspberry jam) or savory. My version used sundried-tomato and cheese. You can take it in different directions, and it will always turned out great, with that visual impact we love so much, particularly during the holiday season.
for the dough: 3/4 cup lukewarm milk 2 teaspoons active dry or instant yeast 360g all-purpose flour, divided 1 large egg 3 tablespoons olive oil 1 teaspoon salt
for the filling: ¾ cup shredded mozzarella ½ cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes 1/2 tsp herbes de Provence ½ teaspoon salt
1 egg for egg wash
To make the dough, place the milk, yeast, and 120g all-purpose flour in a large mixing bowl and stir to combine. Cover and let rest for 15 minutes.
Add the egg, olive oil, salt, and the rest of the all-purpose flour. Mix to make a soft dough, then knead for 6 to 8 minutes, until smooth and supple. Place in an oiled bowl, cover, and let rise for about 1 hour, until doubled.
Mix together minced sun-dried tomatoes, salt and herbes de Provence. Reserve.
Divide the dough into four pieces and shape into balls. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.
Place one piece of dough on a piece of parchment. Roll it into a 10″ circle. Spread ⅓ of the sun-dried tomato mixture on the first layer of dough in an even layer. Sprinkle ⅓ of the cheese, leaving ½” around the outside edge uncovered. Roll out the second ball of dough to the same size as the first. Place it on top of the first circle and repeat the three layers of filling. Again, repeat with the third ball of dough and the last ⅓ of filling. Roll out the last ball of dough and place it on top.
Place a 2″ round biscuit cutter or drinking glass in the center of the dough to serve as a guide. Using a sharp knife, cut the larger circle into 16 equal strips, from the outside edge to the cutter/glass in the center, through all the layers. Using two hands, pick up two adjacent strips of dough and twist them away from each other twice, so the top side is facing up again. Repeat with the remaining strips of dough all the way around the circle. Remove the cutter/glass.
Pinch the ends of adjacent strips together all the way around the bread to create eight star-like points. Transfer the star on the parchment to a baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about 45 minutes. Dough should look expanded and airy.
Heat the oven to 400F. Remove the plastic wrap and brush the star with a thin coat of the egg wash. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until nicely golden. Remove the bread from the oven and cool for 10 minutes before serving.
Comments: This is a very rich dough, and a pleasure to work with. Even if you are a beginner at bread baking, the whole process is pretty forgiving. The circles of dough do not have to match precisely, it is all going to get twisted and any little gaps won’t affect the final product.
There are many videos available on youtube to show you how to shape the bread, like this one.
If you are still searching for a nice bread as a centerpiece for your holiday festivities, this is truly a great option…
I cannot think of a better dessert for Christmas or New Year’s Eve. Cranberries and white chocolate go very well together, as the former is so tart and the latter is often accused of excessive sweetness. Join to this pair a crust made from what is essentially a gingerbread cookie, and as you savor it, all thoughts of pandemics and politics and whatever else troubled 2020 will vanish in thin air. I promise you.
CRANBERRY AND WHITE CHOCOLATE TART (recipe published with permission from Chef Eve)
for gingerbread crust: 178g all-purpose flour 2 Tablespoons brown sugar 113g cold, cubed, unsalted butter (1 stick) 1 tsp. ground cinnamon 1/2 tsp. ground ginger 1⁄4 tsp. ground allspice A pinch ground cloves 1⁄2 tsp. salt 1 tbsp. molasses 1⁄2 tsp. vanilla extract 2 Tbsp cold water
for white chocolate ganache: 340g white chocolate 170g (3/4 cup) heavy cream 2 tbsp. room-temperature unsalted butter, cubed pinch of salt
for cranberry jelly: 3 cups (340g) whole cranberries, washed and picked through 1 medium-sized apple, peeled and grated 200g granulated sugar 1/2 cup water pinch of salt 1 tsp. vanilla extract shaved white chocolate and sprinkles for decoration (optional)
for a 9-inch tart pan
Mix dry ingredients together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle. Add in cold, cubed butter and ginger, and mix until crumbly, and butter is no larger than pea-sized. Mix together cold water, molasses, and vanilla, then stream into pie dough and mix just until dough starts to come together and no dry flour remains in the bottom of the bowl. Do not overmix. Chill the dough for 30 minutes, then roll into a 1⁄8-inch thick round. Use the tart pan to make sure the dough is big enough to come up the sides of the pan with a little overhand. Chill 30 minutes more (the dough is very soft, it needs the extra time in the fridge), then line the tart mold. Chill in the freezer for 10 minutes, then trim the edges of the pie dough using a paring knife. Reserve dough scraps in case you need to patch any cracks that form as the tart bakes.
Line the tart crust with a sheet of parchment paper (or plastic wrap, which is what I do) and fill with baking weights that come up to the edge of the tart. If using a plastic wrap, make sure to fold it over the top of the beans, so that the plastic won’t touch the metal pan. Bake at 350°F for 15 minutes, then carefully remove the pie weights and bake another 10-15 minutes, until the crust is golden brown at the edges, and the center of the tart dough is completely baked. Cool to room temperature.
Make the chocolate ganache. Bring cream to a simmer. Put chocolate and salt in a food processor and pulse to break up into small pieces. When cream simmers, pour over chocolate and let sit one minute to start melting the chocolate. Pulse until smooth. When the chocolate is fully melted, add in butter cubes, and blend to incorporate. Pour into the cooled pie crust. Chill in the freezer to set for about 1 hour as you make the jelly. Make sure the tart is sitting nicely leveled.
Make the cranberry jelly. Put all ingredients except vanilla in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cook until all of the cranberries explode, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, add vanilla, and press through a mesh strainer. Cool for 30 minutes at room temperature, then carefully pour over the very cold from the freezer white chocolate layer. Chill at least 30 minutes in the fridge for the layer to set.
Optional decoration: shave some white chocolate on half of the surface, add sprinkles and sugared cranberries on top.
Comments: As some of you may have already noticed, this year there won’t be a Great American Baking Show. They could not make it happen with all the restrictions due to the pandemics. It was tough enough to produce the British show, but the American production had to be canceled. The producers decided that this month they would feature on their Instagram page holiday-inspired bakes from contestants of previous seasons. This was my contribution. You can browse through all the entries from other tent-bakers clicking here. Be ready to be amazed…
Back to the tart .The combination of cranberry jelly and chocolate ganache is superb but not the only thing I loved about this dessert. The crust is just perfect and quite different from any other tart I’ve ever made. Lastly, for my taste the proportion of crust and topping also hit the jackpot. When I make it again, I might use some gelatin to get the top layer a little more set, so that the sliced piece would have more defined layers, but it’s more a cosmetic point, not really that big a deal.
Chef Eve, thank you so much for allowing me to share your delicious recipe!
Springerle cookies have been around for more than 700 years, and just that thought brings me a smile. It fascinates me that after hundreds of years we still talk about them and so many bakers – particularly in Europe – preserve the tradition by baking batches and batches during the holiday season. The name translates from German as “little jumpers”. Some say that indicates the way they seem to jump in the oven when they bake. Others believe that in the beginning the images imprinted on the cookies showed men on horses, like little jumpers. We’ll probably never know for sure, but what we do know is that they are flavored with anise, leavened with a special ingredient (ammonium carbonate, aka Hartshorn), and the dough takes a large amount of eggs beaten for a long time. Back in the 1300’s, a baker not only had to make the cookies, but also carve the wooden molds they were shaped in. The reputation of a baker would rest not only on the cookies themselves, but in the complexity and beauty of the mold he had produced. Absolutely amazing. Disclaimer: I did not carve my own molds. Please don’t judge.
1/4 teaspoon baker’s ammonia (Hartshorn) 1 tablespoons milk 3 large eggs, room temperature 360g powdered sugar 57g (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened but not melted 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon of anise oil 454g sifted cake flour (I used Softasilk) grated rind of orange
to paint the cookies (optional): powder luster (mine are from Oh Sweet Art) vodka or lemon extract
Make the cookies: Dissolve baker’s ammonia in milk and set aside (avoid the temptation to take a sniff, you will regret it). Beat eggs until very thick, this will take from 10 to 15 minutes. Slowly beat in the powdered sugar, then the softened butter. Add the the mixture of baker’s ammonia and milk, salt, anise oil and orange zest.
Gradually beat in as much flour as you can with the mixer, then stir in the remainder of the flour to make a stiff dough. Turn onto floured surface and knead in enough flour to make a good print without sticking. Refrigerate for one hour, but keep in mind the dough can be refrigerate the dough for up to 3 days.
On a floured surface, roll dough depending on the depth of the carving in the cookie press you are using. Shallow carvings will need to be thinner while deeper carvings will need to be thicker. Flour your cookie mold for each and every pressing. Press the mold firmly and straight down into the dough, then lift, cut with the cookie cutter of your choice, and place the formed cookie onto a flat surface to dry.
Do not cover the cookies while they dry. The goal of drying is to set the design. Let the cookies dry at least for 24 hours. It is better to leave them alone for a couple of days, so the design will be better retained during baking.
On baking day, heat the oven to 255F to 325F (depending on the size of your cookie and how white you like to have them), for 10 to 15 minutes. Let the cookies cool and paint, if you so desire.
Comments: I cannot lie to you, Springerle baking can be tricky. I only do it in December, because it is so deeply associated with this time of the year. In fact, it is quickly becoming a personal holiday tradition for me. First thing to keep in mind, you need the special leavening agent. It has a crystal, grainy structure and gives the cookie its unique texture. If you bake them with regular baking powder, you lose that component. Second, be patient. These cookies cannot be baked on the same day you shape them because the pattern needs to set by drying, sometimes it can take 3 days, depending on your environment. I never had to wait more than 48 hours.
If they are not dry, when they go into the oven, the pattern will be quickly lost as the cookie expands. If they are fully dry but the oven a little too hot, they will form cracks and might even explode, like you can see on my first composite photo above. That brings me to my third advice: always, always, ALWAYS bake a test cookie. I normally place three, one large, one medium, one small, and see how they behave. The temperature that works best for me (for all cookie sizes, in fact) is 275F. It might be different for your oven.
Painting them is the part I enjoy the most. It is a good idea to get very fine brushes so that you can highlight details. I think pastel tones, silver, white and gold are my favorites, particularly to decorate more classic designs.
But this year I pushed the boundaries a bit and used more dramatic colors in some of my cookies…
I also used more modern shapes, that would quite likely horrify bakers from old Swabia…
These were bought from Fun Food Tools (at etsy.com). They definitely take Springerle into a totally new direction… My apologies to the purists. Since they were already such a dramatic departure, I went crazy with the colors also…
As you know, the main flavor of these cookies is anise, which not everyone is fond of. For real anise lovers, you can go one step further and bake them over a layer of anise seeds. I like the flavor, but don’t care for the texture of the seeds at the bottom, so I always skip this step.
I hope you enjoyed this final post on Holiday Cookies. Springerle baking will definitely be part of my end of the year routine. As to the other 11 months, I will practice baking molded cookies using regular baking powder and different flavors. Stay tuned!
Until my participation in a certain show, I was not too wild about decorating sugar cookies with Royal icing. Indeed, in the comfort of my kitchen I would always refer to that white, impossible to tame substance as Royal Pain in the Icing, which indicates how I felt about it. But those intense weeks of preparation for the different episodes of the show forced me into areas of baking I had happily ignored and avoided. Much to my own amazement, I now love everything about cookie decorating, from baking the base to planning the design and trying to make it happen. On that note, I highly recommend that you go through my trilogy of posts on the subject from last month and the detailed tutorials by Tanya which I shared at the time. For all the holiday cookies in this post, I went with a flavor that is deeply ingrained in the season: Fiori di Sicilia, the Italian magical potion that is the classic addition to panettone. As to the decorations, apart from the wet-on-wet which I find the most user-friendly, I will share three methods that were new to me, requiring just a tad more involvement: Crackled Gold Christmas Tree, Reindeer (a clever twist starting from a common cookie cutter), and Stained-Glass Cookies.
FIORI DI SICILIA SUGAR COOKIES (from the Bewitching Kitchen)
360 g all-purpose flour (3 cups) 2 teaspoons baking powder 200 g granulated sugar ¼ tsp salt 227 g cup butter, cold and cut in pieces 1 egg 3/4 tsp Fiori di Sicilia extract zest of 1 lemon ¼ tsp cardamom
Heat oven to 350F. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt, set aside. Cream the sugar and butter. Add the egg, Fiori di Sicilia, lemon zest and cardamom, mix well. Scrape the sides of the bowl. Add the flour mixture in two steps, and beat just until combined.
Dough can be rolled right away in between sheets of parchment paper. Roll to about 1/4″ thick, and cut into shapes. Place on parchment-lined baking sheets, freeze for 10 minutes. Bake for about 12 minutes. Transfer to cooling rack and cool to room temperature before icing.
(for Royal Icing, I used Tanya’s recipe, which you can find here)
Comments: This is definitely my default recipe for sugar cookies because I adore Fiori di Sicilia and I do flips for cardamon. As far as extracts go, Fiori di Sicilia is not cheap, but it is hard to replace with something else. Some say that orange extract + vanilla does a good enough job playing its part. Your kitchen, your rules, feel free to flavor your cookies the way you like. Just make sure not to roll the cookies too thin. Thin sugar cookies don’t stand up to the icing.
With the basic Christmas colors (red and green, plus white for flooding) you can do a lot…
I used two cookie cutters, one for the basic shape, a smaller to cut a circle in the center, turning it into a wreath. From there, nothing fancy. Flooded with white, allowed to set for just 10 minutes and then a few green and red dots added on top. The little bow added in the very end. Yes, I realize that could be a lot better, and I intend to work on it.
A new cookie cutter I got this year stole my heart. I find it so cute and a bit unusual. A Christmas light bulb, which once again can be made quite simply with only two colors of icing and if you like to gild the lily, some luster gold painted on the “metal” part next day.
By bringing one more color – black – you can expand a bit more the horizons, so that Mr. Snowman has a nice hat and black, profound eyes. The baby deer are also super easy, flooding with white, waiting until it sets a bit and piping the details. The little snowflakes were flooded with white and immediately showered with white sparkling sugar. And one day I will understand why I seem to always type “spanking” sugar before getting it correctly (sigh).
And since there was black Royal Icing around… why not immortalize one of our faithful companions, who has been with us every step of the way in this crazy year? The black dots were placed before the white set (wet-on-wet), then the nose and the red collar were added later, just to have a bit of a 3D effect. Same process went into the snowflakes.
Holiday Baking is not complete without Christmas Trees…
Some of the designs were again wet-on-wet, but then I did something new that blew my little mind when I saw it on a tutorial on youtube. A technique called “Crackled Gold” and you can visualize better in this picture:
It is so cool, I cannot quite believe how creative people can be, figuring these little tricks. What you do is flood the cookie with the base color and wait until it starts to crust. Average will be 15 minutes. Then you use the handle of a painting brush, or what I used: a fondant ball-shaper. I have a set of several sizes and picked one to make the indentations that seemed most appropriate for the size of the tree. Press the ball gently to make a mark on the icing. Let it dry completely and if desired you can add details with gold luster. Or you can leave it without the gold accent, for a simpler look.
To see exactly how that is made, you can check the wonderful tutorial by The Graceful Baker in youtube clicking here. The “crackled gold” starts at 33 min and 10 sec. I already anticipate the same approach in other styles, like crackled heart shapes for Valentine’s…. Wouldn’t that be awesome?
Moving on…. another technique I learned from Stephanie on youtube, and you absolutely MUST check her site. What I loved about this one is the clever use of a cookie cutter that most people have in their little treasure box: a gingerbread man, any size will do. If you turn it upside down you can use it to make a Reindeer!
I swear, I love this little guy! I admit his ears ended a bit pathetic, and if you watch her video you’ll realize I forgot to add the hair on top of his cute head, but overall I am thrilled with the way he turned out. I will make some more again in the near future, hoping to do a better job.
The final details (eyebrows and smile) are made with a very fine food pen but if you can also try royal icing, I don’t dare going for such fine details using it. Poor Reindeer, he would look like roadkill.
Please make sure you visit Little Cookie co. youtube channel. I already have three different techniques on my list of projects to try soon, in fact it is quite likely that by the time you read this I will be already working on one of them….
And finally… a technique I’ve been flirting with for the longest time: Stained Glass Window Cookies. First time I did it, I was not very happy with the outcome. I liked the overall design but the stained component was not as I expected.
To have the stained glass effect, many recipes will tell you to simply crush hard candy in the color you want and make a little pile in the cut out part right before you bake. I found it hard to time the full melting of the candy with the cookie baking, and also the candy shrinks quite a bit and gets cloudy. Just not the type of effect I had in mind. I consulted with Tanya about it, and she advised me to use a totally different method, her favorite. Essentially you make the sugar syrup yourself, dye any color you want or leave it plain, and spoon it gently in the cut out part after the cookies are already baked. The result is so much better! Nothing like getting advice from a pro…
Here is the recipe I used, it makes enough for many many cookies, but it is hard to scale it down, so I advise you to keep the amounts as written.
100g sugar (1/2 cup) 3 tablespoons corn syrup 1/4 cup water gel food color, if desired
Combine sugar, corn syrup, and water into a small sauce pan. Place over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Do not stir sugar while boiling. Continue to boil until mixture reaches about 290-300 degrees. Remove from heat and gently stir gel food color.
Place the cookies on a foil lined baking sheet lightly sprayed with oil, or use a non-stick foil. Spoon the candy into the center of the cookie, using the spoon the spread the candy into the edges of the cut out region.
Let set for about 10 minutes, or until candy is completely hardened.
December. This is the time for baking cookies in all shapes and forms, but some are definitely more strongly associated with the holiday spirit. This posts opens a series of four chapters. I start with gingerbread, using a recipe from Tanya, tent-baker extraordinaire, aka The Gingerbread Queen. Subsequent posts will cover Sugar Cookies, Macarons, and Springerle. Gingerbread Cookies are not too hard as far as baking project goes, as long as you keep them as cookies instead of components of 3D sculptures (sigh). Because their flavor is so intense, they can be enjoyed with no decoration whatsoever, or with a very simple white Royal icing. So simple that you can even get by using a tip-less piping bag. And of course, sprinkles are always welcome. Always.
GINGERBREAD COOKIES (very slightly modified from Tanya’s blog)
640 grams all-purpose flour 3 teaspoons ground ginger 1 + 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 1 teaspoon allspice 1/4 teaspoon cloves 1 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt 226 grams unsalted butter, at room temp 200 grams granulated sugar Zest of 1 orange 1 large egg, at room temperature 120 mL (1/2 cup) honey 120 mL (1/2 cup) molasses 2 Tablespoons distilled white vinegar
Whisk together the flour, spices, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Set aside. In the bowl of stand mixer add the sugar with the orange zest and rub them well with your fingers, until fragrant. Add the butter, fit the machine with the paddle attachment and mix until well combined. Add the egg and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl at least twice during mixing. Add the molasses, honey, and vinegar and mix well.
Turn off the mixer and add about half of the dry ingredients. Mix on low just to combine. Add the rest of the dry ingredients and mix just until combined. Gather the dough together into a ball and then flatten the dough into two disks. Wrap each disk in plastic and refrigerate for about 3 hours or until firm enough to roll without sticking.
Heat the oven to 375°F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to a 3/16-inch thickness. Cut out shapes, carefully transfer the cookies to the prepared cookie sheets and freeze for 5 minutes.
Bake until the cookies are firm to the touch and lightly browned around the edges. A three-inch round cookie will take about 8 to 10 minutes. Cool completely before frosting and/or assembling with royal icing.
For most of my decorations, I used Tanya’s recipe for Royal Icing with very little water added. For gingerbread, I prefer not to fully cover the cookie, so instead of flooding them, I piped shapes and wanted them to stay firmly in place.
You can keep it all super simple….
or… while keeping it simple couple the design with some gold for a festive twist
The star was left fully white, the others were painted with gold luster diluted with lemon extract. It is a bit hard to see it in the middle ones, because the gold was just applied on the white decorations.
Even if I rather not completely cover a gingerbread cookie, sprinkles (in this case sparkling sugar) are hard to resist… Just add them before the icing hardens. Keep in mind that the thicker the icing, the faster it sets.
Now what if you dislike Royal icing with a passion? Here is a pretty sweet alternative (pun intended).
EASY NON-ROYAL ICING
1 cup powdered sugar 3 to 4 teaspoons milk 2 tsp corn syrup 1/4 tsp vanilla extract (or almond, or lemon)
Whisk whisk whisk whisk…. If it flows as a thick ribbon from a spoon, it will be ready to use. You can flood the surface or make thick ribbons. Leave as it is, or go crazy with….. SPRINKLES!!!!