Saturday, September 4, 2010

P is for Praxis...and Pfeffernusse

So, I've been doing some thinking these past few days.

Thankfully, I won't bore you with details, but the gist is: I have decided that I will start posting about my baking endeavours. Not that I intend bakegeek to be a play-by-play of what comes out of Ira's oven, but I want to share recipes and stories and successes (and occasional failures) with you all.

Without further delay, on with the show!

I picked up Greg Patent's wordly, "A Baker's Odyssey" at my super top secret source for cheap cookbooks, and I've been really impressed with it. Long story short, it celebrates America's immigrant heritage by going straight to the source for passed-down, ethnic creations that come from a variety of different Motherlands. There are tons of great recipes in here: breads, flatbreads, cookies, pies, yeasted breads, etc., and they come from as wide a range of countries as you'll probably find in any baking book (Germany, Sweden, Greece, Italy, Norway, Syria, Israel, Ireland, Lithuania, etc).

As I've always been one for learning about different cuisines, I was thrilled at the chance to bake from different cultures, as well. At this point, I've only had time to bake two recipes (I blame Committee Meetings), but there will definitely be more to come in the future. For now, I'm going to share the latest and greatest: Pfeffernusse. There should be an umlaut (sp?) on the u but I can't figure out how to insert it in Blogger's word processor.

Photo: Adam Dombovari
Pfeffernusse belong to a family of German cookies that seem to only be baked around Christmas time, which I think is a total shame. However, one thing you'll notice from this book is that a great deal of European baked goods - especially the really rich ones - are often baked either for a) Christmas, or b) before Lent. This was a huge shock to me. How can you resist only baking these things once a year? Why are there not riots in the streets? After speaking to a German friend of mine, he confirmed this to be the case ("Germans really only eat cookies during Christmas"). Well! Soorrrry for being a complete pig, then! I guess I'll never fit in in Germany. Which is probably for the best, because I don't think I could ace their pronounciation.

Pfeffernusse translates literally to "Pepper nuts", which means these cookies are a spicy little number, loaded guessed it..nuts. Well, this recipe is a bit of a deviation from tradition, as they don't contain pepper or nuts (I haven't yet found whole, shelled walnuts to bake with, and I have a peanut allergy which makes me paranoid). Thankfully, there is more than enough flavour to compensate for both parties. The cookies utilize one of my favourite flavour combinations or cinnamon, nutmeg, and anise to give that lovely, deep, magical spiciness that does, in fact, remind me of the winter months. The spiciness even gets help from ground coriander seed, which works so well I turned a blind eye to the fact that I hate that vile plant and all of its associated life stages (Coriander = the seed of Cilantro - FACT). If you love that Spice Axis (think gingerbread), you'll enjoy these for sure.

The base of the cookie is a combination of honey, sugar, and butter, which gives a nice thickened cookie and a subtle sweetness. After baking into little domes, the cookies are glazed with icing sugar and then more icing sugar. At this point, they kind of do resemble little igloos as the recipe indicates. The intense sweetness of the icing sugar makes a great contrast to the wonderful deep spiciness of the cookie. The texture is quite nice, too. After two days the cookies are a wee bit firm, but overall chewy. Apparently they can keep for two months, so this is something you can bake a good deal in advance and save...if you had that mysterious "self control" thing I hear so much about.

As for "A Baker's Odyssey" find out more here. I highly recommend it if you're a fan of home-baked goodness.

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