23/12/2008

Christmas gingerbread sandwich cookies

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Mömmukökur (Mama's Cookies)

My mother only makes these gingerbread cookies before Christmas, but they are excellent at any time of the year. When I was little, I really thought it was my mother's own recipe.

Different people have different ways of making Mömmukökur. My mother makes them very thin and bakes them until they are dark brown and crisp. Others make light brown, thicker cookies that soften quickly once the icing is on. Mother allows them to stand until completely cooled, before putting in tins for storage. This is to ensure that they will stay crisp. Then, just before Christmas - usually on Þorláksmessa (December 23rd) - the four of us (my parents, brother and I) sit down together and make cookie sandwiches, sticking the cookies together two by two with vanilla butter icing.

125 g butter/margarine
250 g golden syrup
125 g sugar
1 egg
500 g flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp powdered ginger
1 portion butter icing

Melt together the butter, sugar and golden syrup and mix well. Cool. Stir in the egg. Mix together flour, baking soda and ginger. Add the syrup mixture and knead until smooth. Store in a refrigerator over night. Flatten out until very thin and cut out shapes with cookie cutters or a glass. Bake at 200°C, until the cookies area a proper gingerbread brown colour. Cool completely before icing.

Note: Don't use this recipe to make gingerbread houses – this gingerbread is too fragile.

16/12/2008

Sarah Bernhardt cookies - Sörur

Like several other great artists, most famously the ballerina Pavlova and opera singer Nellie Melba, actress Sarah Bernhardt had some sweet desserts named after her. There is a Sarah Bernhardt cake, and then there are these delicious confections called Sarah Bernhardt cookies, invented by a Danish pastry chef who wanted to honour the actress.
These cookies, which we usually just call "Sarahs", are a great favourite of mine, and I try to make some every year for Christmas.

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Note:
I have updated the recipe. The original has one thing wrong with it, which is that the buttercream icing has a tendency to separate when made like the recipe tells you to. I found more precise instructions on how to make this kind of icing in my trusty cooking encyclopedia, and have added them into the original recipe (in closed brackets) for those interested. The downside to the new version is that it does not yield enough icing for all the macaroons (at least if you like to use as much as I do). A little extra butter (50 g or so) and syrup (maybe increase it to a cup of sugar and and a cup of water) and one more egg yolk should take care of it.

400 g blanched almonds, finely ground
2 1/5 cup icing sugar/confectioner's sugar
5 eggs, yolks and whites separated
2/3 cup sugar
2 tbs baking cocoa
2/3 cup water
300 g butter, soft
250 g chocolate for coating - use dark
2 1/2 tsp instant coffee powder (optional)

Mix together ground almonds and icing sugar. Whip the egg whites until they are stiff and form peaks and fold into the almond/sugar mixture. With a teaspoon, put small dollops of dough on a baking sheet covered with baking paper, and bake at 180°C for about 15 minutes, or until the cookies begin to take on a golden colour. Remove the cookies from the baking sheet with a spatula while still hot and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

Buttercream icing: Put the water and sugar into a saucepan and cook until the sugar is melted and a thin syrup has formed (for an icing that does not separate, cook the sugar to the soft ball stage, that is 115°C or 239°F of you prefer to use a candy thermometer). Remove from the heat and cool. Beat the egg yolks and slowly pour the cooled syrup into them, stirring constantly. Add the softened butter and mix well. Add cocoa and instant coffee powder (if using). Put in the refrigerator to cool. Spread the cooled icing on the underside of each cookie, forming a small mound in the center. Put in the refrigerator. The icing needs to be cold and stiff before proceeding on to the next step.

Coating: Melt the chocolate in a bowl over boiling water. Cool to about 40°C (use a candy thermometer or finger test). Dip the icing-covered part of the cookies in melted chocolate to coat. Serve cool or frozen with hot cocoa or strong coffee.

Notes:
-These cookies should be stored frozen if they are not meant to be eaten immediately.
-Try different flavours of buttercream fillings.

14/12/2008

Spicy gingersnaps - Piparkökur

The Icelandic term for gingersnaps and gingerbread cookies literally means “pepper cookies”.
These unusual gingerbread refrigerator cookies not only contain pepper, but also paprika. My mother modified the recipe from one she found in an old recipe booklet.

500 g flour
500 g brown sugar
250 g butter
2 eggs
5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp powdered cloves
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/4 tsp paprika

Mix together the dry ingredients. Add soft butter and eggs and knead until smooth. Cool in the refrigerator overnight. Roll out into sausage shapes of even thickness, pinch or cut off small portions and make little balls out of the dough. Put on a cookie sheet covered with baking paper and press your palm on top of each ball to flatten slightly. Bake at 200°C until browned.

Update: I made a batch on Saturday. These are very good gingersnaps. Instead of making balls and flattening them with my hand on the cookie sheet, I cut the dough rolls into thin slices (about 5 mm - 1/5 of an inch thick):

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They do not spread much when they get in the oven, so a space of about 2 cm (4/5 inch) between them is enough. I baked them at 180°C in my convection oven. The cookies took only 4 minutes to get to the stage where I like them best: golden but with a slightly chewy center. If you plan to store them for more than a week I recommend 2-4 minutes more in the oven to get them dry through. They will be a darkish medium brown by that time. Any longer than that and they will burn, unless you go for the ball method, which will yield thicker cookies that will need slightly longer baking.

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Cinnamon 'snails' (Kanilsnúðar) & Jewish Cookies (Gyðingakökur)

An anonymous commenter requested a recipe for Cinnamon 'snails', so here it is. This first recipe is the way my grandmother makes them. The second recipe is included for those who can not get their hands on hartshorn (baker's ammonia).

This is originally a recipe for Jewish Cookies, which are a Christmas staple in many Icelandic homes. I have included instructions for both cookies and 'snails'.

According to Nanna Rögnvaldardóttir, author of the Icelandic food encyclopedia Matarást,  Jewish cookies got the name because they were originally made and sold by Jews, who presumably had a different name for them. It's a bit ironic that they should have become associated with Christmas in Iceland.

Cinnamon 'snails'/Jewish Cookies

175 g flour
100 g butter or margarine
1/2 tsp hartshorn powder (baker's ammonia) – see Note
60 g sugar
1 egg
1 tbs sugar

For cookies:

10 almonds

For 'snails':
Sugar and cinnamon, mixed together, approx 4 parts sugar to 1 part cinnamon (or more, if you like an intense cinnamon flavour)

The dough:
Mix flour and hartshorn. Add sugar and margarine and mix everything together with your hands until you have a crumbly mixture. Add the egg and knead until solid. Cool in the refrigerator for a couple of hours at least.

To make snails:
Flatten the dough quite thin with a rolling pin and try to keep it an approximately square or rectangular shape. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar on top. Roll the dough up into a roll, then slice into approx. 1 cm thick slices. Arrange slices on a cookie sheet and bake at about 200°C until golden brown.


To make Jewish cookies:
Finely chop the almonds and mix with sugar. Flatten the dough and use round cookie cutters to cut out the cookies. Brush beaten egg on the cookies and dip into sugar/almond mixture. Bake in a medium oven until golden brown.

Note: Hartshorn can be hard to find outside Northern-Europe. In the USA, you may be able to find it in German or Scandinavian markets, drug stores or baking supply stores, or through mail order catalogues. It may be labelled either as hartshorn or as baker's ammonia (do not confuse with regular ammonia!).
Hartshorn gives more lift to cookies than baking soda or baking powder, and cookies made with it turn out very light and crisp. It may be substituted thus: 1 tsp baking powder for 1 tsp hartshorn (the cookies will probably not be quite as light or crisp as when using hartshorn) OR 1 tsp baking powder and 1 tsp baking soda for 1 tsp hartshorn (this is supposed to yield similar results to hartshorn, but I have never tried it, so I don't really know if it's true).


Alternative recipe for Cinnamon snails (no hartshorn):
This recipe is from my home economics recipe book from school. I made these once – they looked beautiful but had very little taste. If I make them again, I will use more cinnamon than the recipe states and perhaps add a little vanilla to the dough.

400 ml flour
100 g margarine
2 tsp baking powder
2 tbl sugar
1 egg
50 ml milk

Cinnamon sugar:
2 tbs sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Follow the above direction to make kneaded dough. Melt the margarine and brush over the rolled dough. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar over the dough. Roll up and store in the refrigerator for about an hour. Cut into slices with a sharp knife. Arrange the slices on a cookie sheet and bake at 200°C until golden brown.

02/12/2008

Rice Pudding - Hrísgrjónagrautur

This lovely pudding is served for lunch at my parents' house almost every Saturday, and we all love it. This is a cheap, nourishing, tasty meal, which I make much too seldom in my own home.
At Christmas, we have a small serving of rice pudding before the main meal of hangikjöt. According to tradition, my mother hides a peeled almond in the pudding and we each choose one bowl. The person who finds the almond (usually my brother) gets a small gift, typically some chocolate.

1/2 litre water
200 gr. rice (do not use quick-cook or instant)
1 1/2 litre whole milk
1 tsp salt

Cook the rice in the water until it's almost completely absorbed. Add the milk and lower the heat to simmer. Continue cooking until the rice is tender (the whole process takes about an hour). Add salt and serve with cinnamon sugar.

- cook a handful of raisins with the rice for a few minutes before serving, for an authentic, old-fashioned "rúsínugrautur" (raisin pudding).

- The pudding is usually eaten with milk or "saft" - a sweet drink made with berry syrup (raspberry, red currant or crowberry tastes best). Some people serve the pudding cold with hot caramel sauce at Christmas.