Tasty Traditions: Melomakarona, Greek Honey Cookies

Tasty Traditions: Melomakarona, Greek Honey Cookies

Melomakarona (Greek honey cookies) are one of the most popular treats throughout Greece during the Christmas Holidays and the intense aromas of delicate spices makes every house smell like Christmas.

μελομακάρονο is an egg-shaped Greek dessert made mainly from flour, olive oil, and honey. Along with the Kourabies it is a traditional dessert prepared primarily during this festive season.

Typical ingredients of the Melomakarona are flour or semolina, sugar, orange zest and/or fresh juice, cognac (or similar beverage), cinnamon and olive oil. During rolling they are often filled with ground walnuts. After baking they are immersed for a few seconds in hot syrup made of honey and sugar dissolved in water. Finally, they are decorated with ground, as well as bigger, pieces of walnut. Dark chocolate-covered melomakarona are also a more recent variation of the traditional recipe.

This easy-to-follow traditional Greek melomakarona recipe makes 60 of these delicious festive Greek Christmas cookies, plenty for everyone to try. Serve over a hot cup of coffee and you have a match made in heaven!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1cups light olive oil or 1 12 cups corn oil
  • 1cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup orange juice (or more)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 1teaspoons ground cloves
  • 2 oranges, zest of, grated
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups fine ground semolina (cream of wheat or farina)
  • 6 cups flour
  • 1teaspoon baking soda
  • 1teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Syrup

  • 1 1cups sugar
  • 1 1cups greek thyme honey
  • 1 cup water
  • 3cup walnuts, finely chopped

DIRECTIONS

  1. Put the corn oil, butter, beer (or orange juice), cinnamon, cloves, orange peel, and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat until they are thoroughly blended.
  2. Sift about one cup of flour with the baking soda, baking powder, and salt and blend into the oil mixture.
  3. Add the semolina, a cup at a time, into this mixture.
  4. Add enough of the remaining flour, a cup at a time, until you get a rather firm dough (you may need a bit more or less than the amount of flour mentioned in the ingredients list).
  5. Use your hands to do the mixing, as an electric mixer will be useless after the first two or three cups of flour have been added.
  6. Roll the dough into cylinders, about two inches long and one inch in diameter, flatten them with your hands, and place them on cookie sheets that have been greased with a little olive oil.
  7. Bake at 350 degree Fahrenheit for half an hour.
  8. Remove the cookies from the oven and pour hot syrup over them.
  9. Lay the cookies out in a rimmed baking pan large enough to contain them and pour the hot syrup over the cookies, sprinkle them with the chopped walnuts and let them soak overnight.
  10. (Alternatively, if you do not have enough rimmed baking sheets to accommodate all the cookies, you can dip them in batches directly into the hot syrup – keeping the syrup at the lowest possible simmer – and allow to soak in the syrup for 8-10 minutes; remove with a slotted spoon).
  11. For the syrup: mix the sugar, honey and water, and bring to a boil.
  12. Cook on low heat for four minutes and skim off the foam that forms on top.
  13. The next day put them on your prettiest platter, sprinkle each layer evenly with the finely chopped walnuts and wrap with plastic wrap (or put in an airtight container) and serve.
  14. These are great keepers and will last for months!

While you’re baking Melomakarona, listen to these beautiful Greek Orthodox Christmas hymns and enjoy an authentic experience!

Tasty Traditions: Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cake)

Tasty Traditions: Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cake)

Schwarzwälder kirschtorte is named for the Schwarzwald or Black Forest region in southeastern Germany, so it’s often known outside the German-speaking countries as “Black Forest Cherry Cake” or “Black Forest Gateau.”

As one of the most popular cakes in Germany, it’s interesting to note that the inspiration for the cake may have come from Switzerland instead. The kirschwasser, or cherry firewater, on which the cake is based, came from the area around the central Swiss lakes. This region is still famous for its kirsch brands Etter and Dettling. During the mid-to-late 1800s, kirschwasser began to be widely produced and used in the Black Forest region of Germany.

During the 1800s, desserts using cooked cherries, kirsch, and whipped cream or cream became a staple in the region. The first known kirschtorte appeared near Zug in Switzerland, where kirsch was distilled from the famous Zuger sour cherries.

Some folk traditions suggest that the cake is meant to resemble the traditional costume of

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Hand-tinted postcard of a young schwarzwald woman wearing the traditional bollenhut

the country girls in some parts of the Black Forest. The cake is said to represent their black or dark brown skirts, their white blouses, and their traditional hats covered with large cherry-red woolen bobbles.

The Schwarzwälder kirschtorte appears in recipes for the first time in the 1930s. Its popularity in Germany grew quickly and it’s now considered a traditional dessert.

In Germany, the baking industry works under regulations that require a kirschtorte to be made under specific guidelines. The rules define it as either “a cake made with Kirschwasser and whipped cream or with Kirschwasser and buttercream, or a combination of the two” — so without the kirsch, the cake isn’t genuine.  The presence of fruit is actually considered secondary to the presence of the kirsch, the flavor of which has to be clearly apparent. The layers — of a light Viennese cake or sponge — must contain at least 3% cocoa or chocolate (though there can be more), and the topping must be of either buttercream or whipped cream, and garnished with chocolate.

INGREDIENTS

For the cake:

  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or essence
  • 4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, melted
  • 1 cup flour, sifted

For the syrup:

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons Kirsch

For the filling:

  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar / icing sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons Kirsch

For the topping:

  • 2 cups canned sour cherries, drained
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners’ / icing sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream, whipped
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate

DIRECTIONS

FOR THE CAKE: Beat eggs, sugar, and vanilla together until thick and fluffy, about 10 minutes. Alternately fold chocolate and flour into the egg mixture, ending with flour. Pour the batter into 3 8-inch cake pans that have been well greased and floured. (Do not use oil to grease the pans: use butter or Crisco or a similar solid fat. If you use oil, the layers will probably stick to the pans. Also: make sure you do the greasing and flouring even if you have nonstick pans.)

Bake the layers in a preheated 350 degree F. oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans for 5 minutes; then carefully turn out on racks and allow to cool completely.

FOR THE SYRUP: Make syrup by mixing together sugar and water and boiling for 5 minutes. When syrup has cooled, stir in kirsch. Prick the cake layers and pour syrup over all 3 layers.

FOR THE FILLING: To make the butter-cream filling, beat together sugar and butter until well blended. Add egg yolk; beat until light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Fold in Kirsch.

CAKE ASSEMBLY: To assemble cake, place 1 layer on a cake plate. Spread with butter cream filling. Using 3/4 cup of the cherries, which have been patted dry, drop cherries evenly over cream. Place second layer on cake. Repeat. Place third layer on top. Fold 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar into the whipped cream. Cover the sides and top of the cake with whipped cream.

Decorate top of cake with remaining 1/2 cup cherries. Grated chocolate is perfectly acceptable as a topping, but if you prefer to make chocolate curls from a chocolate bar, shave them off the bar (at room temperature) with a vegetable peeler. Refrigerate the curls until ready to use. Press the chocolate curls on sides of cake; sprinkle a few on the top. Chill the cake until serving time. Afterwards, because of the cream, keep the cake in the fridge until it’s finished.

NOTE:  The cake layers are made without any leavening agent such as baking powder so the only thing that makes the layers rise in the baking is the air you’ve beaten into the batter. You therefore have to concentrate on incorporating as much air as possible during the beating process. If using a mixer, make sure to use the whisk attachment instead of the normal cake beater. If using an egg beater or hand mixer, you may need to beat the basic egg and sugar mixture for longer than ten minutes to get it light and fluffy enough.

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Tasty Tuesday: Kaiserschmarrn, A Deliciously Sweet Treat!

Tasty Tuesday: Kaiserschmarrn, A Deliciously Sweet Treat!

Kaiserschmarrn or Kaiserschmarren (Emperor’s Mess) is a shredded pancake, which has its name from the Austrian emperor Kaiser Franz Joseph I, who was very fond of this kind of fluffy shredded pancake. It is a popular meal or dessert in Austria, Germany,  Hungary, Slovenia, and northern Croatia.

The name Kaiserschmarren is a compound of the words Schmarren (shredded pancake) and Kaiser (emperor). Schmarren is a colloquialism used in Austrian and Bavarian to mean “trifle, mishmash, mess, nonsense and folly.” Kaiser Franz Joseph’s love for this dish was referred to humorously as his “folly.” The word “Schmarren” is related to scharren (to scrape) and schmieren (to smear). Its Slovenian name is “cesarski praženec” or “šmorn.” Its Hungarian name is “császármorzsa;” its Czech name is “trhanec” or ” kajzršmorn.”

Kaiserschmarren is a light, caramelized pancake made from a sweet batter using flour, eggs, sugar, salt, and milk, baked in butter. Kaiserschmarren can be prepared in different ways. When making Kaiserschmarren the egg whites are usually separated from the yolk and beaten until stiff; then the flour and the yolks are mixed with sugar, and the other ingredients are added, including: nuts, cherries, plums, apple jam, or small pieces of apple, or caramelized raisins and slivered almonds. The last mentioned ingredients (nuts, cherries, plums, apple jam, or small pieces of apple, or caramelized raisins and chopped almonds) aren’t in the original recipe and just additions made by some cooks based on their personal preferences. In the original recipe there are only raisins (before cooking they are soaked in rum.)

HISTORY

It is generally agreed that the dish was first prepared for the Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph I (1830–1916). There are several stories. One apocryphal story involves the Emperor kaiserfranzjosef1853-1and his wife, Elisabeth of Bavaria, of the House of Wittelsbach. Obsessed with maintaining a minimal waistline, the Empress Elisabeth directed the royal chef to prepare only light desserts for her, much to the consternation and annoyance of her notoriously austere husband. Upon being presented with the chef’s confection, she found it too rich and refused to eat it. The exasperated Francis Joseph quipped, “Now let me see what ‘Schmarren’ our chef has cooked up.” It apparently met his approval as he finished his and even his wife’s serving.

Another story is that Francis Joseph and his wife were traveling the Alps and stopped by a farmer’s home for lunch. The farmer was so nervous that he threw all the fanciest ingredients he had into a pan to make a delicious pancake; worse yet, due to his nervousness and shaky hands he scrambled the pancake. Hoping to cover up the mess he then covered it with plum jam. Luckily, the kaiser thought it was scrumptious.

RECIPE

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup rum
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more for dusting
  • plum preserves or peach preserves for serving

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, combine raisins with rum and let soak 30 minutes, then drain.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, beat together the milk, eggs, white sugar, vanilla, and salt. Gradually whisk in the flour to make a smooth batter. Stir in the drained raisins.
  3. In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Pour the batter into the skillet and cook 5-6 minutes, or until the pancake has set and the bottom is golden brown.
  4. Using a spatula or two forks, tear the pancake into bite-size pieces.
  5. Drizzle in the melted butter and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.
  6. Turn up the heat to medium high and use a spatula to gently toss the pieces for 5 minutes, or until the sugar has caramelized.
  7. Sprinkle with additional confectioners’ sugar and serve with the preserves of your choice.
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Enjoy Kaiserschmarrn for breakfast, lunch, or dinner!