Although I grew up celebrating mostly Italian customs in my family I am actually about 25% German as well. I don’t think there is much traditional German food I like, especially now that I’m mostly vegetarian, but desserts I can always get behind :O)
I started doing research into some traditional German desserts and I came across something called Quarkstollen. I had heard of Stollen before. It is a German bread-like fruit cake often made around Christmas. The dough is made using yeast and is formed by wrapping layers onto itself to symbolize the baby Jesus. Stollen dates back to 1329 but originally it was made only of water, oats, and oil due to restrictions on the use of butter in baked goods. In 1491 the Pope finally allowed the use of butter sending what is referred to as The Butter Letter. After that many additions were made to Stollen like raisins and almonds to make it the rich cake it is today.
Quarkstollen is a little different then regular Stollen. Mostly favored in Berlin it is made using baking powder instead of yeast and it also uses a type of German cheese called Quark. There are a few different types of Quark. One kind has a ricotta like texture while another kind is more creamy (due to the addition of cream). I had never heard of Quark before and I couldn’t find it at the grocery store. After a little research I found that many people substitute Farmers’ Cheese in place of Quark. I was able to find farmers cheese so I thought I would start there.
As a first pass for my Quarkstollen I used 8 ounces of farmers cheese in place of most of the milk in my usual recipe. For spices I chose ground cardamom and nutmeg as well as some almond extract and a little lemon juice (in place of candied citrus peel) and rum (what is a fruit cake without a little rum). I also used chopped almonds, raisins, and currant. The initial trial was very tasty, but I felt that the spices could be ramped up and the amount of raisins/currants reduced. I knew a second trial was needed.
A coworker of mine (who tried the cake) told me about a Vermont creamery that makes Quark. I discovered I could mail order it through Murray’s Cheese in Manhattan so I just had to try it! My cheese came very quickly so my second trial was on it’s way. I will say the Quark I got was more of the consistency of yogurt or sour cream than ricotta and it had a sour flavor. I think it gave the cake a much smoother texture than the farmers cheese, but to balance the sourness I topped the cake with a thick sugar glaze. My second attempt was definitely a keeper and my coworkers all agreed :O)
My husband and I traveled to Vermont a few years ago and stayed close to the Canadian border. While we were there we tried some local wines and before we left we went to pick a few extra bottles at a local wine store. That was where I discovered a wine I had never seen before called Glögg.
Upon investigation I discovered that Glögg is actually a type of mulled wine enjoyed in many Scandinavian countries such as Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland. It is so popular there, that it is even sold ready-made like in the picture above. It is made by heating red wine along with a variety of whole spices, orange peel, raisins, almonds, and often brandy.
In addition to the bottle I bought I also made my own Glögg at home and immediately thought it would make an excellent cake! I took all the ingredients that go into Glögg and formed a cake recipe around it. Milk was replaced with a combination of red wine, orange juice and brandy (I used Calvados apple brandy). I used ground cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and cloves in the batter as well as almonds and raisins. I topped the cake with a red wine sugar glaze. This cake definitely captures the essence of Glögg and is perfect served warm on a cold winter’s day.
For a long time now I’ve really wanted to travel to Peru. I’ve heard about the many beautiful places like Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca (yes that’s an actual place). Most of all I really want to see the wildlife. I have a strong fondness for Alpacas, Guinea pigs, and Capybara (I’ve included pictures of all three below in case you don’t know what they look like). All three animals are native to Peru and I would love to see them in their natural habitat. I’ve been doing a lot of research on Peru to plan a visit we hope to take some day and I came across an interesting recipe for something called Picarones.
Picarones are a traditional Peruvian doughnut made with sweet potato and butternut squash along with spices such as cinnamon, anise, and clove. The doughnuts are falvored with Pisco, a Peruvian brandy made from grapes. They are then served stacked on a plate and topped with a citrus glaze, called Chancaca, made from unrefined sugar and flavored with orange or lime.
I decided to pay tribute to this delicious sounding doughnut I hope to one day have when I travel to Peru. My cake version is made with fresh sweet potato and butternut squash then topped with a citrus glaze. It is great for people who don’t like overly sweet cakes. It’s also a great way to sneak vegetables into dessert, especially for kids!
Growing up my grandmother would make a lot of different baked goods that had lemon and/or anise flavoring. My favorite were anisette cookies which are little dome shaped cookies covered in a sugar glaze. She would also make pizelle cookies and biscotti with anise flavoring, and I loved them all. I quickly realized that anise, especially combined with lemon, was a very popular combination in Italian pastries.
Anise is derived form a flowering plant of the same name. It has a licorice-like flavor similar to fennel or star anise. When people hear it is like licorice they are often wary of trying it. I’m not normally a fan of licorice, but I love anise when it is used in moderation. I think it always pairs excellently with the lightness of lemon.
I wanted to create a flavorful yet light pound cake that would incorporate both lemon and anise. To make this cake I use natural lemon and anise extracts, which you can usually find in the baking isle at your local grocery store. To kick it up a notch I also use a bit of lemon juice as well as a quarter of a cup of Sambuca (an Italian anise-flavored liqueur). Just like my favorite anisette cookie I then topped the pound cake with a lemon sugar glaze. The result is a light and refreshing pound cake that is perfect for spring-time. I couldn’t resist making it this past weekend to celebrate Easter!
My two best friends from childhood are Jewish and growing up I was involved in a lot of their temple activities and traditions. They are still both very involved in their faith (one a Hebrew school teacher and the other works for Hillel’s national headquarters). Each of them has traveled to Israel on numerous occasions and I’ve always been amazed at the stories and pictures they bring back with them. They have inspired me to make a cake that would pay tribute to both the Jewish faith and to Israel.
I have been lucky enough to have attended many a Passover Seder with their families and I think it is one of my favorite holiday traditions, even though I’m not Jewish. The center of the Passover Seder is the Seder plate which has six items placed on it to represent the story of the Jewish exodus from slavery in Egypt. Charoset (also called charoses or haroset) is a sweet paste that is meant to recall the mortar the Israelites used to build the pyramids in Egypt. There are a few variations of Charoset. Ashkenazi Jews (who settled in eastern Europe) use apples, walnuts, cinnamon, and red wine, while in the Middle east it is usually comprised of dates and raisins instead of apples.
I really wanted to make a cake that was both kosher for Passover and that also incorporated Charoset. To make a Passover cake I needed to use Matzoh (or matzo). Matzoh is an unleavened bread/cracker that symbolizes the unleavened bread the Jewish people ate during their exodus through the dessert. During Passover no leavened bread (or cake) can be eaten, only matzoh or matzoh based baked goods.
To make my Charoset cake, I chose to use a combination of matzoh meal and potato starch. I think the potato starch helped give the cake a unique texture. Since I used matzoh meal instead of matzoh cake meal (which is finer) I pulsed the matzoh meal in a food processor for a bit to get a finer crumb on it. The other ingredients in the cake were salt, oil, sugar, and eggs (no leavening!).
I then made a batch of Charoset with apples, walnuts, cinnamon and red wine, but I couldn’t decide how I wanted to incorporate it in the cake. Grinding it into a paste would be how it is more traditionally served, but growing up my friends always left it chunky, so I decided to do both. I ground up half the Charoset and mixed it into the cake batter. I then divided the batter into cupcakes and filled the center of each with a scoop of the remaining Charoset. The result was amazing all on it’s own, no frosting or accompaniment needed. I can’t wait to make another version using Charoset made from dates and raisins!
Back in college I decided to take a few Italian language classes. One thing that has stuck with me is learning that Tiramisu (Tira mi su) literally translates to “pick me up”. I always thought that was so clever, especially since I often eat a dessert whenever I need a little pick-me-up.
Unlike many Italian desserts Tiramisu is a fairly new invention. Although its creator is often debated, most accounts agree that it was created in Italy sometime in the early 1980’s. The traditional recipe calls for ladyfingers to be soaked in strong coffee, often spiked with liqueur, then layered with a mascarpone cream that is made with raw eggs. I have always enjoyed Tiramisu, but to be honest the raw eggs always made me a little nervous. So I decided to try replicating the famous dessert as a cake.
For my cake version of Tiramisu I made yellow cake as a base then soaked it in coffee-liqueur syrup. I then filled and frosted the cake in a light and fluffy mascarpone whipped cream and finished it off with a dusting of cocoa powder. It will definitely be a good pick me up any day of the week.
In honor of St. Patrick’s Day last week I made some Irish Cream cupcakes. I had made Irish cream cake before but in the past I always used all natural extract to get the flavor. Even though the extract was not artificial, I didn’t feel like the resulting flavor was as true to real Irish cream as I would like.
So I decided to buy the good stuff, Bailey’s Irish Cream, and got to baking. Bailey’s is considered to be the first Irish Cream on the market. It was invented by Gilbys of Ireland in 1974. It “…is a perfect marriage of fresh, premium quality Irish dairy cream, finest spirits, Irish whiskey and a proprietary recipe of chocolate flavors”*. I have tried other brands of Irish Creams that are on the market, but Bailey’s has the best flavor by far.
My Irish Cream cake is made using about 3/4 of a cup of Bailey’s Irish cream. I also add a little coffee to the cake batter because I’ve always felt that coffee pairs very nicely with Irish Cream. I’m also very fond of Bailey’s brand coffee creamers so I highly recommend trying them if you haven’t. I actually made the Irish Cream cake twice last week. I felt the first batch could have used a little more Irish Cream flavor so I bumped up the amount from half a cup to 3/4 of a cup. I also put a bit of Irish cream in the frosting :O) The final result was very tasty, and the flavor is much more natural and robust then when I used the Irish Cream extract.
A few years ago, when I still worked as a Chemical Engineer, I decided to do a demonstration for “Bring your kids to work day”. I figured what kid wouldn’t love to play with chocolate! I put together a demonstration on how to make modeling chocolate, which is like chocolate playdoh. I included a brief scientific explanation of why adding corn syrup to melted chocolate turns the chocolate into a pliable solid.
The cannoli cake was one of the first recipes I ever created. I hadn’t made it in a long time so I thought it could use a re-visit and some testing/tweaking.
I first decided to make a cannoli cake after returning from my first trip to Italy. I was lucky enough to visit Sicily which is where the cannoli originates. After returning from Italy (where I also got to see Rome and Milan) I was excited to start making some authentic Italian pastries.