Thursday, December 20, 2012
Some recipes are a matter of trial and error, and in the cafe business, looks are important. No one knows that better than an experimental baker like Stella. In preparation for holiday time, Stella likes to come up with a few new offerings at her cafe. She gets a great deal of satisfaction out of customers coming in, looking at the baked goods in the glass front case and saying, "That looks really good, can I try one of those?"
This year, Stella was hoping to have a brand new kind of soft baked cookie for her customers, a kind rarely seen outside of Germany or European specialty shops: Lebkucken. After spending several hours poring over the internet, she decided on a recipe from a German food site. She purchased the ingredients and spent an evening preparing a good-sized batch of the spicy iced cookies. She mixed up the dough and put the suggested three tablespoon mounds a few inches apart on parchment paper lined cookie sheets. It was the ugliest dough she'd ever seen. She likened it to something better left to the imagination, but it smelled good, so she kept up her faith in the process.
As the cookies baked she already knew they needed more of the special spice mixture, and she feared they would be bland. Texture wise, the cookies turned out textbook perfect, but they were still not very pretty. Next, she turned her attention to the boiled icing flavoured with orange liqueur, following the directions to the letter. 'Boil the sugar and water for a few minutes..." she muttered to herself as she stirred the mixture. What exactly was 'a few minutes'? Three? Seven? Nine? She decided to err on the side of caution and boil it for three. The icing was meant to be brushed on the cookies when warm, and she knew a nice, glossy icing could rescue the Lebkuchen more than anything. Better make it thin. When the mixture looked right, she took it off the heat and sifted the required amount of confectioners sugar into it. Within seconds the icing was more like fudge than icing. She spread it on the cookies as quickly as possible. The result? Quite possibly the ugliest cookies ever known. This would not do!
In the end, the Lebkucken were very good with tea, when consumed by Stella and her girls, who declared them 'not bad'.
"Oh well, there is always next year, and plenty more recipes on the internet to try", she said to Kendra and Zoe. "But it's getting a bit late for this year."
For the cafe this year, instead of Lebkuchen, they decided to make extra gingerbread cookies, cut out in the shapes of Santas and snowmen, stars and candy canes. (The recipe for those can be found in the previous post.) They, at least, were always reliable.
The above photo is from the official Nuremburg Gingerbread site. I have a feeling Stella won't rest until her Lebkuchen look just like theirs.
Saturday, December 1, 2012
"IT'S SNOWING!" Kendra yelled running over to the window.
The customers in the cafe all turned their heads to watch soft flakes of snow settle onto the ground.
"Well I'm not surprised with all the cold weather we've been having lately," Stella said as she turned up the thermostat.
"I'm gonna go build a snowman!" Kendra said running out the door.
Kevin chuckled, "Good luck with that."
Suddenly Zoe came out from behind the counter holding a large cake and belting out Happy Birthday.
"My goodness is that for me?" Stella exclaimed as Zoe placed the cake in front of her.
"Well it is your birthday is it not?"
Stella blew out the candles, cut the cake and Zoe handed it out to everyone sitting in the cafe.
"Wow! This is amazing! What is it?"asked Stella.
"It's a gingerbread cake! Layers of small gingerbread cookies in between whip cream. It's quite tasty if I may say so myself."
"Yes! Yes it is!" Stella laughed taking another bite.
The cake was polished off quickly, delighted customers congratulating Stella on her birthday, and Zoe on her lovely cake.
The door of the cafe suddenly opened and a woman entered wearing tall black pumps adorned with silver spikes, a long black trench coat and faux alligator skin pants. Her hair was dyed so blonde it looked as if she had been sitting in the sun far too long. She walked over to the counter with a click in her step as her heels hit the hardwood.
"A caramel latte. Extra hot but not too hot. Make it soy and make it quick." Texting as she spoke.
A minute later Stella handed her the hot drink, "Will that be all?"
Taking a sip the lady exclaimed,
"This isn't what I asked for."
"It's a caramel latte just like you asked for. Extra hot but not too hot and made with soy," Stella replied.
"Well I want a new one. Make it quick."
Stella sighed, her patience wearing thin as she handed the lady a new drink.
"Still not as good as Starbucks, but it will have to do," the lady pouted reaching for her wallet.
"Now will that be all?" Stella sighed. Comparing Starbucks to her cafe was like comparing a crow to a chickadee. A nuisance who steals all your food. Or business in this case.
"What's that?" The lady said pointing a perfectly manicured finger to the cake.
"Gingerbread cake, my daughter made it for my birthday. Would you like a piece?"
"Is it dairy free?"
"No I'm afraid its not."
"You're daughter made it did she?"
"Yes, but she's quite a good baker and she,"
"Fine then. Make it quick, I'm a busy gal." interrupted the lady, still looking at her phone.
Stella nervously handed her the cake, praying she wouldn't complain, and secretly that she'd leave soon.
Grabbing the fork and taking a bite the lady smiled,
"Now this is much better than Starbucks. This snow however, is not. I'm sure glad I'm going to Maui this Christmas."
With a click of her heels the lady was gone, and Stella chuckled shaking her head.
"Mom! She liked my cake!" Zoe said, mouth agape.
"Yes. Yes she did."
Gingerbread Icebox Cake -adapted from Martha Stewart
1 recipe Molasses-Gingerbread dough (below)
3 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract.
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a generously floured piece of parchment, roll dough quite thinly. Brush off excess flour.
2. Using a 2 3/8 inch flutted cutter, cut out at least 42 cookies. Transfer to parchment-lined baking sheets.
3. Bake cookies for 5 minutes. Remove from oven, and tap them firmly on counter to flatten cookies.
Return to oven, rotating sheets, and bake until cookies are set and edges have darkened, about 5 minutes. Let cool on wire racks.
4. Beat cream, sugar, and vanilla just until stiff peaks form. Arrange 7 cookies in a circle on a cake stand or serving plate (cookies should be touching one another). Place 1 cookie in the center. Carefully spread a layer of whipped cream evenly over the cookies, leaving a bit of a cookie border. Repeat making 5 more layers each of cookies and whipped cream. Refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight before serving. (The cookies will be softened enough to slice through like cake)
2 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
3/4 cup unsulfured molasses
1. Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt and spices in a medium bowl.
2. Beat butter and sugar with a mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy. Add eggs, and beat well. Add molasses, and reduce speed to low. Gradually add the flour mixture, and beat til just combined.
3. Divide dough into 2 portions and wrap each in plastic. Refrigerate 1 hour.
*Tip: Making the cookies the day before, and assembling cake the day after makes this delicious cake a lot easier!
Written by Emma, photo by Rebecca