Saturday, December 31, 2016

Apple Marzipan Cake and Gingerbread Creatures

2016 has not stacked up to be the most beloved year, but I didn't want to let it slip away without documenting a few personal holiday baking triumphs. Above, from Luisa Weiss' Classic German Baking (a much appreciated Christmas cookbook present), is a towering apple marzipan cake. Infused with almond paste, and with apples both cubed within and splayed artfully on top with a glaze of apricot jam, it evoked powerful childhood taste memories of afternoon outings to elegant German cafes for the ritual of Kaffee und Kucken. The recipe can be found here.

In anticipation of Santa's visit, we had fun making gingerbread creatures, following the recipe from the Joy of Cooking (the classic version). When we ran out of patience for rolling and cookie cutting, we used up the final dough with free form snails, pretzels, and a friendly mole skink, sporting fetching icing spots.

Best wishes for peace and happiness in the new year.

Gingerbread Men 
from Joy of Cooking (makes 2 sheets of cookies)
gingerbread dough
1/4 cup butter
1/2 brown sugar
1/2 cup dark molasses
3 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/3 tsp salt
1/4 cup water

1/4 cup confectioner sugar
a few drops of water

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Blend until creamy the butter and brown sugar and then beat in the dark molasses. Sift the flour and then resift with the remaining dry ingredients. Add the sifted ingredients to the butter mixture in about 3 parts, alternating with 1/4 cup water. You may have to work in the last of the flour mixture by hand. 

3. Roll out the dough to about 1/4 inch thickness, cut out shapes with cookie cutters and place them on parchment paper lined cookie sheets. You can combine the scraps and chill in the freezer for a few minutes before rolling out again. When you run out of patience, turn the last scraps into hand-formed shapes like snails. If you like, decorate them with dried fruit such as currents and cranberries. 

4. Bake the cookies for about 10 minutes, according to their thickness. You can test them for doneness by pressing the dough with your finger. If it springs back after pressing, the gingerbread cookies are ready to be cooled on a rack. 

5. To decorate them with icing, stir the confectioner sugar and a few drops of water together in a small bowl to make a paste. Apply the icing with a toothpick or pipe through a sandwich bag with a tiny opening snipped in the corner. Allow to dry. The cookies will keep for a week or so if stored in an airtight container.