Thursday, May 30, 2013

Turkish Delight

The habit-forming qualities of Turkish Delight feature in "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe"

The small cubes of gel-based confection, known in the west as Turkish Delight, were first created by Bekir Effendi who opened his confectionery shop in Constantinople (Istanbul) the year of the American revolution in 1776. The original recipe was made with honey or molasses, typically flavored with rosewater, lemon or orange. Nowadays, nuts, dates or other dried fruits are often added. A layer of powdered sugar makes the otherwise sticky candy easier to handle. The habit-forming qualities of Turkish Delight feature prominently in the children’s book “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” by C. S. Lewis.

The timing of events in the traditional recipe is a bit of a challenge. Here are a few examples:

This related "applet" or "cotlet" recipe uses gelatin as the thickening agent rather than the typical cornstarch, is easier to make and creates a similar irresistible jelly cube:

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Springerle are simple sugar cookies with designs pressed from a mold

Springerle cookies come from Swabia in southwest Germany and date back to the 14th century or earlier. The name means “little jumper,” probably because the dough, molded with embossed rollers or blocks, has a pop-up effect. The molds were originally carved in wood, though plastic and ceramic molds are now available. The recipe is simple, mostly flour, sugar and eggs, leavened traditionally with hartshorn salt and the cookies are often flavored by the bed of crushed anise the cookies rest on while baking. The dough is usually left to dry for a day to strengthen the crispness of the design. The molds probably originated from the stamping of sacramental bread and the oldest molds feature religious imagery. Here are a few recipes:

House on the Hill has a large selection of single design molds, mold blocks and rolling pin molds as well as supplies and recipes:


Crunchy and nutty,  biscotti are the perfect complement to coffee or hot chocolate

Biscotti, the plural form of biscotto, meaning “baked twice,” originates from the Italian town of Prato. The dough is cooked first as an oblong slab, then sliced into the distinctive quarter moon shape and baked again, resulting in a hard, dry cookie. It is normally served with a drink, such as coffee, tea or hot chocolate. The Italians also pair it with the strong, after-dinner wine called “vin santo.” This recipe adds dark chocolate to the traditional almonds. Here are a few links to recipes:

Friday, May 24, 2013

Gateau Breton

Gateau Breton is a dense cake, rich with butter and eggs

Gateau Breton originates from Brittany, the Northwest corner of France that pushes out into the Atlantic. The region was settled by the Bretons, who came from what is now Great Britain. Their celtic roots have given the region a unique cultural quality. The traditional women’s costume includes a tiered dress with elaborately embroidered bodices and dramatic lace headwear called a coiffe. Each village has it’s own distinctive and sometimes quite extravagant coiffe design. Britanny is known for it’s cider, crèpes and, of course, Gâteau Breton. Similar to pound cake or shortbread, it is rich in butter and eggs. Every village has it’s own variation of gâteau and the flavor is influenced by the type of ingredients available locally. Here are a few links to recipes:


Shortbread is the perfect accompaniment to coffee, tea or cocoa

During medieval times, “rusk” was a popular biscuit bread made by adding sugar and spices to yeasted bread dough and baking it twice. It was something like German Zwieback or Italian biscotti. In the 12th century, Scottish bakers began replacing the yeast with butter, which created a more crumbly (short) pastry. Mary Queen of Scots was a shortbread fiend who helped popularize it during the 16th century. Her favorite version included caraway seeds and was made by cutting a large round of shortbread into wedges. They were called “petticoat tails” because of their resemblance to fabric triangles, used to make petticoats during Queen Elizabeth’s reign. Other popular shortbread shapes include fingers, squares, and small rounds.

The traditional 1-2-3 recipe calls for one part sugar, two parts butter and three parts oatmeal flour. Modern recipes usually replace the oatmeal flour with wheat flour. Shortbread is often baked in embossed pans adding a dimensional design to the surface. Here are a few links to recipes:

House on the Hill has a selection of single design molds and embossed shortbread pans as well as supplies and recipes:


Kerststol is the Dutch version of stollen, a dense, leavened Christmas bread with a surprise inside

Many of America’s Christmas traditions can be traced to Dutch culture. The name, “Santa Claus,” is an Americanization of the Dutch, Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas.) The typical Dutch Saint Nick is dressed in red bishop’s attire and sports a long white beard. He notes whether children have been naughty or nice in his little red book. He rides on a white horse and sends his assistant down the chimney to deliver presents to the good girls and boys. Dutch settlers introduced Sinterklaas lore to New York in the 17th century. Over the years the story spread and  evolved until Clement C. Moore brought the American version into clear focus in his poem, “The Night Before Christmas.” The Dutch exchange gifts on Sinterklaas Eve which is December 5th, so Christmas Day is much less frenzied than Americans are used to.

Kerststol is the Dutch version of stollen, a dense, leavened Christmas bread popular in Germanic Europe. Stollen originated in Dresdon, Germany in the 1400’s and was made to resemble the infant Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes. Because of the tradition of holiday fasting and austerity, the church originally restricted the ingredients to flour, oats and water, resulting in a hard, tasteless bread. In 1450, Prince Elector Ernst of Saxony made a plea to lift the ban on butter but was refused by Pope Nicholas V. Five popes later, in 1490, Pope Innocent VIII issued the “butter letter” revoking the ban. Over the centuries stollen has evolved into the rich, nut and fruit filled bread of today with a hidden column of marzipan running through the middle. Here are a few links to recipes:

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Basler Brunsli

Chewy, chocolate-almond Brunsli originate from Basel, Switzerland

The holiday season in Switzerland officially starts on December 6 - Saint Nicholas Day. Good children are greeted by Samichlaus (Santa Claus) who gives them sweets and nuts. Naughty children are greeted by Schmutzli, an alarming figure who carries them off in a big sack.

The Swiss take their Christmas cookie making (Guetzli) seriously and spend the month of December trying out different recipes. Each region has its favorites. One of the most popular is “Brunsli,” a chocolate almond spice cookie that originates from the town of Basel, located in the north, just across the border from both France and Germany. Brunsli cookies are typically heart-shaped, symbolizing the spirit of the season.

Ground almonds, sugar and chocolate are bound together with beaten egg whites to produce a satisfying, chewy texture and the spices give Brunsli a distinctive holiday flavor.  Most recipes are low-fat and gluten free. Here are a few links to recipes:

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Panforte al Cioccolato

Panforte is a dense, spicy holiday delight from Siena, Italy

Panforte originates from Siena in the Tuscany region of Italy. Panforte literally means "strong bread" and it is a heavily spiced, dense fruit and nut confection. Records from the 13th century indicate that panforte was used to pay tithes to the nuns and monks at the Sienese Montecellesi monastery. Queen Margherita helped popularize the confection in the late 1800's and her portrait is often used on Italian Panforte packaging. It’s especially good with coffee or hot chocolate.

The cooking process for panforte is fairly straightforward.  Nuts, fruits, flour and spices are added to a firm-ball stage mixture of sugar, honey and butter, then transferred to small pans and baked. We especially like the "al cioccolato" version that contains cocoa powder and a thin layer of fine dark chocolate crowning the top. Springform pans make for easy transfer of the cooling cakes. We make 6" round cakes because it's easier to cut the wedges, but it can be made larger. Panforte will last a month or longer. Here are a few links to recipes: