Tuesday, December 19, 2023


In Denmark, in December, a brown cookie delights the nose and mouth. The history of Brunkager began during medieval times when, in celebration of the winter Holy Days, newly arrived spices from the Far East embellished rye bread. In 1835, newfangled cooking stoves with regulated heat permitted a refinement of the recipe to its present cookie form. Potash, a leavening agent, introduced two attributes: crispiness and a slightly bitter aftertaste. The Danish, living in a chaotic land where the woods teemed with stick bearded trolls grinning through festering teeth, reconciled to the bitter with the sweet.

Here are a few Brunkager recipes:



Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Sirop de Liège

Fruit butters first appeared in Northern Europe during the Middle Ages when newly established monasteries began planting large orchards. To lengthen the fruit season, a preservation process was invented that involved slow cooking the whole fruit–skin, seeds and all–at a low heat.

All that simmering breaks the fruit down into a velvety, spreadable “butter,” with half the sugar of jams and jellies. While fruit butters can be made from all sorts of fruits; cherries, plums, apricots, peaches, etc., the Belgian Liège variety traditionally uses pears and apples. Most Belgian Sirop de Liège is thick, dark, and almost jelly-like.

Sirop de Liège is used primarily as a spread on an open-faced sandwich or piece of toast. It can be placed in a little container on a cheese plate. We like it spread on a toasted cheese sandwich!  It can also be used as a sauce on meats or to replace syrup on pancakes and waffles. It is sometimes added as an ingredient in marinades, salads and desserts. 

Here are a few Sirop de Liège recipes:

Sunday, January 2, 2022


 Early versions of pryaniki date back to the 4th century BC, but became widely popular in the 9th century AD. Made with rye flour, honey and berry juice, the little cakes were commonly known as medovy (медовый хлеб) which translates as “honey bread.” In the 17th century, trade routes to the Middle East and India brought a profusion of new spices to Russia which were added to the recipe. By the 17th century the name was changed to pryaniki (пряники) derived from the Russian word for “spices.”

Pryaniki are eaten, usually with tea or coffee, throughout the year by all levels of society. They are especially popular during the holidays and are often used as decorations on Christmas trees.

Here's a traditional Pryaniki recipe:

And here's a variation by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh:

Saturday, December 26, 2020


Turrón, a traditional holiday sweet in Spain, is thought to have originated with the Moors who invaded Spain in the year 711. Traditional turrón is made with honey, toasted almonds and egg whites. There are a few theories, some outlandish, about the origins of the name, but it’s generally thought to derive from the Latin torrere “to toast.”

Christian traditions are the central focus of the Christmas holidays in Spain. There is no Santa Claus. Instead, the Three Wise Men deliver presents to children on the Feast of Epiphany.

The primary home decoration is not a tree but a model of Bethlehem depicting the nativity.

The traditional turrón recipe consists of only three ingredients: honey, egg whites and almonds.


For a more complex, modern variation you might want to try Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh's delicious almond and aniseed nougat:


The making of the modern version of turrón or nougat, while quicker to make, is a bit challenging because it requires the precise timing of baking steps. A sweet syrup is boiled and poured  at two different stages of candy development into whipped egg whites. The nuts must be toasted and ready to add to the nougat while they are still piping hot.

Here's a cheeky video of the making of the Ottolenghi/Goh recipe:

Because a rooster crowed the night of the nativity, Christmas Mass is called the Rooster's Mass.

Thursday, January 16, 2020


“God Jul” means merry (good) Christmas in Norwegian. The holiday is celebrated with traditional dishes the entire month of December. “Syv sorter,” in which “seven sorts” of baked goods are offered, is a favorite custom. There are about 20 traditional cookies that families choose from, and at the top of many lists is “nøttetopper,” a chewy, crunchy, gluten-free hazelnut macaroon with a single hazelnut placed in the middle of each cookie.

A Norwegian Santa’s helper (nisse) riding on a marzipan pig

Most recipes list only 3 ingredients: egg whites, hazelnuts and sugar. Something magical happens to those simple ingredients when they are whipped and baked as they have a rich, full flavor. Getting the cookies to turn out chewy on the inside and crunchy on the outside can be a bit of a challenge but gets easier with practice. You can form the cookies with two spoons, although we found it easier to add height by using a piping bag with a large nozzle. The same cookie, Nussmakronen, is made in Germany. The cookies are a bit fragile so a sturdy cardboard box with shredded paper for padding can help protect them in transit. Here are a few recipes:



Friday, December 14, 2018

Herbal Tea Blend

Naturally caffeine-free herbal tea, which originated in ancient China and Egypt, has been used for centuries to boost health and satisfy the palate. Much time can be devoted to studying the historical uses of these herbs; how they have been thought to benefit particular parts and functions of the body. Alternatively, herbal teas can be appreciated simply for their unique and delicious flavors. Blending teas is a fun way to explore how different flavors can enhance each other.

For our holiday gift, we combined herbal teas from four corners of the earth to create "harmony herbal tea." 


Nettle leaves, in their fresh state, can cause a painful sting when touched. Fortunately, once processed they are safe to eat and add an understated “green” flavor. Nettles can be eaten in salads or soups and have been used in European traditional medicine to treat digestive and skin problems.


Peppermint has a direct connection with the flavors and smells of Christmas. Candy canes, after all, are flavored with peppermint. Traditional medicine uses peppermint for minor ailments and is thought to enhance memory and alertness.


Licorice contains a compound that is 30-50 times more sweet than sugar. It is used in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine. In Europe, it is often combined with mint, anise or laurel in the production of distinctly flavored sweets.


The English name “dandelion” is derived from the French “dent-de-lion” which means “lion’s tooth.” Dandelion has been used as an herbal remedy all around the world. It is employed to treat inflammation and is known as a diuretic. Our dandelion has been toasted, contributing a subtle warmth to the blend.

MyNewRoots.org has a great article, listing herbs, their traditional uses and recommended proportions for blends:


Who knows? Maybe a new tradition could be created with your unique herbal tea blend becoming an alternative to the standard holiday pumpkin-spice flavor.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


We are fans of the "hippie" version of granola

Did you know that granola was central to the formation of the cold cereal industry in the United States? The origins of granola date back to the popular health movements that swept through the United States in the mid 1800’s. One of the leading figures, Dr. Syvester Graham from Pennsylvania, advocated vegetarianism and temperence. His lasting contribution was the development of graham flour, a type of coarsely ground whole wheat.

A few decades later, Dr. James Caleb Jackson created his own health movement in Dansville, New York that embraced hydrotherapy and dietary restrictions. Dr. Jackson baked Graham’s flour into sheets, broke them up, then baked them again, smashing them into small pieces resembling gravel. He called his concoction granula. It was quite hearty, shall we say, and was promoted as “the cereal you have to soak overnight.”

In 1876 Dr. John Harvey Kellog took charge of one of Dr. Graham’s health spas in Michigan, renaming it Battle Creek Sanitarium. He created his own cereal, adding other whole grains to the Jackson recipe. He initially named it granula until Jackson sued. Kellogg swapped a letter and granola was born. John Kellogg and his brother William developed other cereals and William went on to establish Kellogg’s breakfast cereals.

Charles W. Post, a former patient of  Dr. Kellogg, created yet another health retreat and tinkered with Dr. Jackson’s recipe, giving it the name Grape-Nuts. He went on to found the Post cereal brand. The granula-like cereals were never as popular as other innovations like corn flakes and shredded wheat, probably because eating granula/granola was a bit like chewing small stones.

Granola languished in obscurity for decades. In the 1960’s when hippies started grooving on the health benefits of whole, natural foods, they revived the granola name and greatly expanded the ingredient list to include oats, seeds, nuts and dried fruits.  Yeah, I think we’re going with the hippie version.

Here are a few of hundreds of possible recipes:



Shipping granola in inexpensive plastic containers is an alternative to bag packaging.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016


Saint Nicholas tending a barrel full of children was a popular early Speculoos mold design

Most likely, the first European cookie consumed in America was a Speculoos made by Dutch settlers in New Netherland. In fact, the word cookie is thought to derive from koekje the Dutch term for cookie. The origin of the Belgian name Speculoos is lost to history, but it may come from the Latin speculum, meaning mirror, since the cookie is formed in a wooden mold. When the cookie is removed from the mold, it becomes a mirror image of the original design. Another theory suggests the word comes from Specerij, the Dutch word for spice, since the cookies contain many spices. Early designs had religious themes. Saint Nicholas tending a barrel full of children was one of the most common subjects. Over time other designs were used, including windmill cookies found in stores in the United States today. Originally, the cookies were produced for consumption on, or the day before, the St. Nicholas feast on December 6. Similar versions of the cookie can be found in Germany (Spekulatius), the Netherlands (Speculaas) and France (spéculoos). Following one Belgian tradition, children put shoes by the chimney before going to bed. If they’ve been good, they find their shoes filled with Speculoos and other goodies the next morning.

Making the dough is fairly straightforward, but producing a delicious, well-formed Speculoos cookie from a mold is challenging. Here's a link to our kitchen-tested version of the recipe with photos and hints:


To learn more about the making of traditional wooden Speculoos molds, see the article about master woodcarver, Oldrich Kvapil:


Figgy Pudding

Christmas pudding can be made up to a year in advance and  improves with age
Figgy Pudding, Plum Pudding, Christmas Pudding or simply, “The Pud,” has been an essential part of the British Christmas tradition since medieval times. It’s made up of dried fruits bound with eggs and bits of bread, often moistened with treacle (molasses), enriched with suet (soo-et) which is the white fat surrounding the kidneys of sheep or cows, and seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger and other spices. It’s made up to a year in advance (we make ours in September) by slowly steaming for more than six hours. Here are a few links to recipes:



Christmas pudding is traditionally served by placing the pudding in a saucepan of simmering water (about halfway up the side of the glass jar with top unsealed) for a few hours, then pouring heated brandy, rum or cognac over it, lighting it afire, waiting for the flames to subside whilst making sure not to burn the house down, pouring a lovely sauce on it and garnishing with a twig of holly.  Alternatively, it can be microwaved (top unsealed) at 50% for 5 minutes, then left to stand for 5 minutes. Either way, the sauce is a must.

Here’s a recipe for custard sauce:

1 cup whipping cream
1/2 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 medium egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar

Place cream in a heavy saucepan. Scrape seeds from the vanilla bean and add the pod. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a separate bowl until blended. Gradually whisk in the hot cream mixture. Return to the saucepan and cook over a medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens so that it thinly coats the back of a wooden spoon (170°F - about 4 minutes). Strain, cover and refrigerate until cold. For those so inclined, 2 tablespoons of brandy or cognac can be added just prior to refrigeration. Serve chilled on the hot pudding.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


Panettone makes excellent French toast as well as amazing bread puddings

The lineage of this sweet, leavened bread can be traced back to Roman times. It is most associated with Milan and there are many legends about it’s development. One tells of a nobleman, Ughetto Atellani, who fell in love with Adalgisa, the daughter of a poor baker named Toni. To win Adalgisa’s heart, Ughetto disguised himself as a baker and invented a sweet bread to which he added eggs, raisins and candied orange peel. The ploy worked, according to the legend, and Leonardo da Vinci (hah!), who attended the marriage, was so impressed by the “Pan de Toni” (or Toni’s bread) that he helped spread it’s popularity. More likely, the name comes from it’s literal translation from the Italian “big bread,” because it is known for it’s tall proportions.

Here are some recipes for panettone:



Panettone is lightly sweet and a bit dry. It’s intended to be eaten as an accompaniment to a hot beverage such as hot chocolate, tea or coffee. It also makes excellent French toast and there are several delicious bread puddings that can be made with it. Here is our favorite pudding recipe:

Panettone Bread Pudding with Amaretto Sauce

1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup amaretto liqueur
2 teaspoons cornstarch

Bread Pudding:
1 (1-pound) loaf panettone bread, crusts trimmed, bread cut into 1-inch cubes
8 large eggs
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/4 cups sugar

To make the sauce: Bring the cream, milk, and sugar to a boil in a heavy small saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently. In a small bowl, mix the amaretto and cornstarch to blend and then whisk into the cream mixture. Simmer over medium-low heat until the sauce thickens, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes. Set aside and keep warm. (The amaretto sauce can be made up to 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Rewarm before serving.)

To make the bread pudding: Lightly butter a 13 by 9 by 2-inch baking dish. Arrange the bread cubes in the prepared dish. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, cream, milk, and sugar to blend. Pour the custard over the bread cubes, and press the bread cubes gently to submerge. Let stand for 30 minutes, occasionally pressing the bread cubes into the custard mixture. (Recipe can be prepared up to this point 2 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Bake until the pudding puffs and is set in the center, about 45 minutes. Cool slightly. Spoon the bread pudding into bowls, drizzle with the warm amaretto sauce, and serve.

Monday, June 3, 2013


Lebkuchen have the indulgent blend of spices we associate with the holidays

Spicy, nutty and sweet, lebkuchen were invented by monks in 13th century Franconia, around the present-day town of Nuremberg, Germany. In 1487, emperor Friedrich III presented children with Lebkuchen imprinted with his portrait during a gathering of the estates of his realm. Ingredients include honey, nuts and an indulgent blend of spices including anise, coriander, cloves, ginger and cardamom. Lebkuchen are often glazed with sugar or spread with a thin layer of dark chocolate. They are typically round and soft, though a harder version comes in the shape of a heart with a written inscription on top. Here are a few recipes:

Fig Chutney

Because it is both sweet and savory, chutney can be paired with a wide variety of dishes

Chutney, derived from the Sanskrit word “caṭnī,” denotes a wide range of relishes that originate as far back as 500BC in the India and Pakistan regions of South Asia. Made from all sorts of vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices, chutneys typically taste both sweet and tart. Fig chutney consists of figs, onions, vinegar, sugar and spices boiled down to a thickened, jam-like reduction.

Because of their complex sweet/savory flavors, chutneys can be eaten with a number of different foods, whether as a complement to a selection of cheeses, as an accompaniment with desserts, served as a relish for meats or curries, or used simply as an appetizer. Here are a few recipes: