Advent at Dusk and Danish Aebleskivers

aebleskivers tf011 ~ Danish Aebleskivers ~

It’s raining, and I don’t mind it one bit. It reminds me of Denmark when we made aebleskivers in the days leading up to Christmas. While we rush about today making final preparations for guests and our Christmas Eve dinner, I’ll be making a batch of these aebleskivers to enjoy before the fire, when we’ll raise our glass to our family members far and wide and reflect on our memories of Christmas in Denmark.

This week I contributed an article to Food Quarterly called Advent at Dusk. It shares a few Danish memories and transports you for bit to the Scandinavian countryside at Christmas, deep in the woods, replete with holly, moss and forest spirits. It also has a link to my recipe for these aebleskivers, so go have a look. In the meantime, I wish all of you a very happy holiday filled with warmth, friends, loved ones – and good food.
~
aebleskiver pan
Danish Æbleskivers

Referred to as pancakes, dumplings or even doughnut holes in English, Danish æbleskivers are served as a treat throughout the month of December. While you can buy aebleskivers pre-frozen in the shops, nothing beats the vanilla and cardamom scent and tender texture of homemade pancakes. To make them you will need a special æbleskivers pan, which is a skillet with 6 to 8 round indentations. Cast iron is best.

Makes 20.

1  1/2 cups whole milk
1 envelope dry yeast or .6 ounce fresh yeast (1 cake)
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamon
1/2 vanilla bean
2 large eggs, separatedUnsalted European-style butter
Strawberry or raspberry preserves
Powdered sugar

Heat milk in a small saucepan until lukewarm.  Remove from heat and pour into a medium bowl.  Add yeast and let it dissolve.

Combine flour, sugar, salt and cardamon in a medium bowl.  Split vanilla bean and scrape seeds into the dry ingredients.  Whisk the egg yolks into the milk.  Add the wet ingredients to the flour and mix well. Beat egg whites in bowl of electric mixer until stiff.  Fold into batter.  Let stand one hour at room temperature.

Melt 1/2 teaspoon butter in each indentation of an aebleskiver pan over medium heat. Pour batter into each indentation, about 2/3 full.  Cook until golden brown underneath, 3 to 4 minutes. Using a wooden skewer, turn æbleskivers over and continue to cook until golden and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer æbleskivers to a plate lined with a paper towel, and repeat with remaining batter.  Serve æbleskivers with powdered sugar and preserves. Accompany with gløgg.

Speculoos: Ginger Spice and Everything Nice Cookies

And one more cookie for the New Year:

speculaas

~ Speculoos: Spiced Holiday Cookies ~

Speculoos (or Speculaas) cookies are a Belgian and Dutch cookie. They are very spiced, but more fragrant than a gingersnap. What distinguishes a speculoos cookie is 2 things. The first is that they require a spice blend that reads like a laundry list of Asian and East Indian spices. The second is that Speculoos are traditionally prepared in a springerle mold, which produces picture-perfect cookies stamped with quaint images such as windmills, St. Nicholas, angels and cottages. The spice blend is easily prepared with commonly used spices, and you can make a large batch to keep on hand for extra cookies or seasoning breads and cakes. If you don’t have a springerle mold, no worries. The dough may be rolled and shaped with cookie cutters, or simple flattened into disks, as I have done in this recipe. While rolling and flattening may appear a tad less decorative and more homemade, once you take a bite of these spiced cookies you won’t mind one bit – happy new year!

Speculoos Cookies

Makes 3 dozen cookies

Spice blend:
3 tablespoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground white pepper

Cookies:
1 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons speculoos spice blend
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Sliced almonds as garnish, optional
Turbinado sugar for sprinkling

1. Heat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment.
2. Mix all of the spice blend ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.
3. Prepare the cookies: Cream the brown sugar and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until light. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy. Whisk the flour, the spice blend, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Add to the sugar and mix until combined without over-mixing.
4. Roll the dough into one-inch balls and place on the prepared baking sheet, at least 2 inches apart. Flatten each ball with the bottom of a water glass to a 1 1/2-inch disk, approximately 1/8-inch thick. Press a few almonds into the top of each cookie and sprinkle with a pinch of Turbinado sugar. Bake until light golden and firm, 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

Gløgg – Mulled Spiced Wine

glogg wine TasteFood
Gløgg

Hot, spiced and boosted with wine and spirits, gløgg is an elixir worthy of the vikings. Throughout the month of December, this libation is a Nordic staple, served in cafes, doled out from street carts and ladled at social gatherings. It’s the season’s response to the cold and dark and as ubiquitous as herring. Most home cooks will make their own brew, either enabled by a mix or from scratch. This recipe is my version of gløgg from scratch, and I encourage you to try this method. It avoids the cloying sweetness often found with mixes and is remarkably easy to prepare. You don’t have to splurge on a nice bottle of wine for this recipe, but be sure it has heft.

Serves 8 to 10 friends.

For the garnish:
1 cup raisins
1/3 cup Cointreau or Gran Marnier
1/2 cup whole almonds (optional)

For the gløgg:
1 1/2 cups Port wine
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup Cointreau or Gran Marnier
1/3 cup brown sugar
Zest of 2 untreated or organic oranges, shaved in strips with a vegetable peeler
10 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 bottles full-bodied red wine

Fresh orange slices as garnish

Prepare the garnish:
Combine the raisins and Cointreau in a small bowl. Let sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours. (Raisins may be prepared up to one week in advance.  Cover and refrigerate until use). Toast the almonds in a dry skillet on the stove. Remove from heat and coarsely chop in large pieces.

Prepare the gløgg:
Combine all of the ingredients except the 2 bottles of red wine in a heavy large pot with a lid. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered until reduced to 2 cups, 12-15 minutes. Add red wine and warm over low heat with the lid on the pot. Do not let the gløgg come to a boil (lest the spirits will evaporate!)

To serve, add a spoonful each of raisins and almonds, if using, to a glass or mug.  Strain gløgg into glass.  Garnish with fresh orange slices. Serve with a spoon for scooping up the raisins and almonds.

Cranberry Streusel Coffee Cake

cranberry cake view TasteFood

~ Cranberry Streusel Coffee Cake ~

For the past few days I’ve been reaching around a big container of cranberry sauce sitting in my refrigerator – a left over from our Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve pointedly ignored it until yesterday, when I realized I needed to take action, either by freezing it or repurposing it. I am done with turkey for the moment, so the thought of freezing sauce for another round of dolloping over a roasted bird was not terribly enticing. Baking, however, was something I could get excited about. It’s been raining cats and dogs lately, and the holiday season is before us, so something warm, spiced and sweet, wafting fragrant aromas from the oven into the kitchen would be perfect.

Cranberry Cake TasteFood

Cranberry Streusel Coffee Cake

Use a whole cranberry sauce (not gelee) for this recipe – preferably homemade. A recipe for a quick and easy sauce is included at the bottom of this post. Serves 12.

Streusel:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, cubed

Cake:
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole-milk Greek yogurt
1 1/2 cups whole cranberry sauce

For the streusel:
Combine all of the ingredients except the butter in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to blend. Add butter. Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Set aside while you prepare the cake.

For the cake:
Heat oven to 350 F. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish. Beat sugar and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs one at time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the zest, vanilla and cinnamon. Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Add to the butter and sugar in 3 batches, alternating with the yogurt and finishing with the flour. Spread half of the batter in the prepared pan. Spoon the cranberry sauce evenly over the batter. Spread the remaining batter over the cranberry sauce (it will be sticky). Sprinkle the streusel evenly over the cake. Bake in oven until knife inserted in center of the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool on rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. The flavors will develop as the cake cools.

For the cranberry sauce:
Place 12 ounces fresh or frozen cranberries, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon orange zest and a pinch of salt in a heavy medium saucepan. Cook, stirring, over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries burst and the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and cool completely.

Cooking for your Health: Smoked Salmon Tartare

~ Smoked Salmon, Greek Yogurt, Lemon, Dill, Chives, Whole Grain Bread ~

Party food can be healthy, too. In fact, during the festive season, it’s important to have a few healthy recipes up our sleeves that are fancy enough to be invited to the holiday table while balancing the season’s excess. Smoked Salmon Tartare is a perfect multi-tasking appetizer: It has fresh, bold flavors, is rich in protein, B vitamins, and calcium and is low-fat to boot. It may be dressed up and served on brioche toasts, or kept more casual, presented on baguette slices, or, in this case, whole grain pumpernickel bread. Garnish it with fresh herbs and lemon, and don’t forget to pass the champagne – it’s the party season, after all.

Smoked Salmon Tartare

For best results, finely chop the salmon, onion and chives in similar minced size. I prefer to do this by hand with a knife, rather than use a food processor, which will often create a paste.

8 ounces smoked salmon, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
2 tablespoons Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped dill
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
Whole wheat or pumpernickel rounds
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Finely dice the smoked salmon. Transfer to a bowl. Fold in the onion, yogurt and lemon juice. Add the dill and chives and gently combine. Mound spoonfuls of the salmon on pumpernickel or whole wheat rounds. Sprinkle with sea salt (to taste) and freshly ground black pepper. Serve garnished with lemon segments.

Cranberry Fig Chutney

~ Cranberry, Fig & Rosemary Chutney ~

Thanksgiving dinner is simply not complete without a cranberry sauce. While I have nothing against the traditional cranberry-sugar combination, I often find missing an extra layer or kick of flavor – so I devised this chutney. Chutneys are concoctions of sweet and savory fruit, spices and herbs, resulting in a well-rounded mouthful that pops in your mouth. This recipe is not heavily weighed down by too many spices, so the humble cranberry shines through – which, of course, is a requisite for Thanksgiving.

Cranberry Fig Chutney

This chutney is not just for the Thanksgiving table. Use it as a condiment for roasted pork, duck and chicken. It’s also delicious when served as a condiment on a cheese board, or dabbed on crostini with soft goat cheese. Makes about 2 cups.

18 dried black mission figs, quartered
1/2 cup Port wine
12 ounces cranberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated ginger (I use a microplane)
Juice and zest from 1/2 orange
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 (2-inch) rosemary sprig

Place the figs in a small bowl. Pour the Port wine over the figs. Set aside for 30 minutes. When the figs are ready, place the cranberries and sugar in a heavy medium saucepan. Heat over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Add the figs and Port wine, the ginger, orange juice and zest, pepper, salt, and rosemary sprig. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, uncovered, until the cranberries burst and the chutney has thickened, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool completely. Discard the rosemary sprig. (The chutney may be made up to 2 days in advance. Cover and refrigerate. Serve at room temperature).

Orange Almond Semifreddo with Port Wine Poached Figs

~ Orange Almond Semifreddo, Port Wine Poached Figs, Almond Praline ~

This dessert has the whiff of Christmas. The good news is that you don’t need to wait until December to taste it. It’s really a 2-part dessert, with each component stand-alone good. Fresh figs are poached in a heady reduction of Port wine, balsamic vinegar, citrus and spice yielding intense results reminiscent of Christmas puddings and mulled wine. You could stop there and serve the figs in their stew as a simple dessert soup, but why hold back? That was my thought, when I ladled the figs and their sauce over a wedge of melt-in-your-mouth semifreddo. Semifreddo is a fancy way to describe this frozen Italian concoction of whipped cream and meringue, which, in this case, is flecked with toasted almonds and orange zest. Each bite is ethereal, light and airy, disappearing on the tongue in a teasing poof. For a little structure and lasting crunch, I topped the dessert with a shard of caramelized almond praline. Like I said – why hold back?

Orange Almond Semifreddo with Port Wine Poached Figs 
Serves 8

Semifreddo:
3/4 cup whole almonds
1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
Pinch of salt
3 large egg whites, room temperature
1 cup heavy cream, chilled
1 teaspoon Amaretto or almond liqueuer
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Figs:
1 cup Port wine (or heavy bodied red wine)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Zest and juice of 1 orange
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
12 ripe medium-large figs, halved

Praline:
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Prepare the semifreddo:
Line a 9-inch-by-5-inch loaf pan with plastic, leaving a 3-inch overhang. Place almonds and ¼ cup sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until finely ground. Add orange zest and salt; pulse to blend. Beat the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer until they begin to hold soft peaks. Add sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, and beat until egg whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks. Transfer to a large bowl. Beat cream, Amaretto and vanilla extract in a clean mixing bowl until soft peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the cream until no traces are visible. Gently fold the almonds into the egg whites until evenly distributed. Spoon into prepared baking dish and smooth top. Cover with plastic. Freeze at least 8 hours or overnight.

Prepare the figs:
Bring all of the ingredients except the figs to a boil in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and boil until liquid is reduced by half. Strain the liquid and return to the saucepan. Add the figs and toss to coat and submerge. Simmer over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Remove and cool completely in the liquid. (Figs may be prepared up to 1 day in advance. Refrigerate until use. Allow to come to room temperature before serving).

Prepare the praline:
Heat the sugar in a heavy small saucepen over medium heat until sugar melts, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until sugar turns amber in color. Add the almonds and sea salt and stir quickly to coat. Pour onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and spread into a thin layer.. Do not touch with your fingers. Cool completely. Break into small pieces.

When ready to serve, remove the semifreddo from the loaf pan. Working quickly, cut in 3/4-inch slices and arrange on serving plates. Spoon figs and juice over the semifreddo and garnish with praline shards. Serve immediately.

If you like this, you might enjoy these recipes:
Cranberry Orange Trifle with Candied Walnuts from TasteFood
Pistachio Pound Cake from Oui Chef
Holiday Pumpkin Roulade from TasteFood
Fig Crostata from The Wimpy Vegetarian