Friday Finds

I wish all of you peace and so much love!

Holiday colors (photo by Ania via Flickr):

decor with red berries

Festive ornaments (garland decor by DwellStudio):

ornament garland

Christmas morning rituals (winter cookies by 79 ideas, photo by radostina):

cups and cookies

The house smelling of gingerbread (photo by Migle Seikyte):

dough and cookie cutters

A village of lanterns (via Pinterest):

house lanterns

Happy weekend and a Merry Christmas to all! See you in January.

Fruzsi

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Family Heirloom Vanillekipferl

vanillekipferl title

Fact: in this part of the old continent there is no Christmas without Vanillekipferl. These crescent-shaped biscuits are very popular in the Advent season throughout Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Romania and in my home country.

To confuse you, we all call them different names, but shhh! they are virtually the same. I’ve decided to refer to them by their German title in this post simply because I thought it will be the most familiar of the bunch.

Legend has it the flaky, buttery pastry was created to celebrate the 1683 victory of the Austro-Hungarian army over the Ottoman Turks in the siege of Vienna: the shape of the cookie is said to represent the half-moon of the Turkish flag.

Wether this is true or not, Vanillekipferl spread and soon become a festive specialty in Central-Eastern Europe. The dough is a simple shortcrust or shortbread pastry enriched with ground walnuts, almonds or hazelnut depending on family tradition (= what your folks could get), shaped into tiny horseshoes, dusted generously with vanilla sugar.

Now, I could call my recipe the Best Ever Vanilla Crescents or Impossible Christmas Biscuits, but those attributes are so overused. Also, this pastry is assumably not the best, nor is it impossible. What it is is sweet and humble, just like my beloved granny who taught me how to make it.

Vanillakipferl is more than a winter treat for us though: it’s tradition, family and the essence of Christmas in a delicious bite the size of your pinky. Ask anyone from this region, childhood memories will be sure to pop up regarding the delicate little crescents.

And today I’m giving you my family heirloom recipe, just in time for the holidays. They probably won’t be the star of the holiday table when it comes to looks, but these crescents make Christmas magic happen. Just watch!

Oh, and don’t even bother making one batch, double the recipe! It will quickly disappear.

vanillekipferl closeup

Vanillekipferln (Traditional Christmas Vanilla Crescents)

  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

200 g (7 oz) butter or margarine

280 g (10 oz or 2 ¼ cup) all-purpose flour

50 g (1.78 oz or ¼ cup) granulated sugar

100 g (3.5 oz or ¾ cup) finely ground walnuts

1/2 cup powdered sugar and 1 pack (8 g or 1 ½ tsp) vanilla sugar mixed, for dusting

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients with your hands until dough comes together.
  2. Shape dough into a ball, wrap in cling foil and let rest in the fridge at least 2 hours, or as long as overnight.
  3. Preheat oven to 175°C / 350°F, line baking tray with parchment paper.
  4. Divide dough into two parts. Work with one portion at a time, put remaining dough back in the fridge (when cool, it’s easier to shape and crescents hold better during baking)
  5. Pinch off chunks from the chilled dough, shape into crescents the size of your pinky.
  6. Place crescents on baking sheet a little apart.
  7. Bake for 25 min, until slightly golden on the sides.
  8. Gently roll in vanilla sugar to coat while still warm.

Yields approx. 75 crescents, filling 1 and a half baking trays. Stored in an airtight container, vanilla crescents are delicios for weeks.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year for all!

Love,

Fruzsi

Friday Finds

Advent: the time to listen for footsteps – you can’t hear footsteps when you’re running yourself.

Bill McKibben

Smitten with Danish design (photo from Søstrene Grene Christmas Catalog):

danish christmas decor

Always remember:

you are enough calligraphy

Gingerbread ornaments (“white cookies” photo by Nina Gabelica):

gingerbread ornament

Rusty star garland available at Cox & Cox:

rusty star garland

Sparrows in the snow by Kevin Winterhoff:

sparrows in the snow

Happy weekend!

Fruzsi

How I Started Making My Own Dairy

homemade dairy

For a long time, I wanted to attend to a culinary course but have been putting it off because I didn’t want to go alone. As we all have busy lives, making it happen sadly seemed on the verge of impossible. After a few attempts on reaching an agreement it became obvious that if I were to wait for the whens, wheres and all that to come together, it will probably never happen, so I decided to go by myself.

I’ve participated in a bread & dairy workshop a few weeks back and it turned out to be so much fun! Did not even miss company because my attention was completely focused on making the food. In 3 hours, not only did we bake several delicious breads, but also prepared our own butter, yogurt, fresh cheese and yeast starter to take home with us. From scratch.

On this occasion it cleared on me how straightforward making your own dairy could be. Before seeing it for myself, I thought it’ something you can’t possibly have the proper tools and conditions at home. With my newly acquired knowledge though, I jumped straight into homemade dairy and I don’t think I’m buying these items from the store anytime soon!

TBH, I don’t drink milk. Period. Lattes and hot cocoa yes, but not plain milk. Dairy though! I love, love, love dairy. Thank God (and mom and dad and genetics) I’m not lactose intolerant, I’d be so miserable missing out on all the deliciousness. Having allergies myself, I really feel for everyone with this condition, fingers crossed we will soon have some kind of remedy.

So why should you start making your own yogurt and butter? Not because it’s cheaper, although you’d be better off (not counting the value of your labour that goes into it). And not because it’s more convenient, as lifting products off a store shelf is always easier, of course. Why do it then?

Because it makes you proud. In a word where most of us are nine-to-fivers sitting in an office all day and our jobs come down to keystrokes and clicks, sooner or later you start feeling like you need to make something tangible. To create. Art, crafts, food, or anything really, with your own hands.

I started my blog because I was at that point, and I cook and DIY for the same reason. Not that I hate my day job, it’s just that I had to look for an outlet elsewhere to channel my creative energy. Luckily, I found my passion and the everyday grind gets so much more tolerable when you have activities that relax your mind, charge you up and give you satisfaction.

But back to the matter at hand! Utensil-wise, if your kitchen is equipped with a pot, some kind of a jar, a mixing bowl and an electric mixer (or at least a whisk), you are set to go. Other useful devices could be a food thermometer, ramekins and a sieve, but those are not strictly mandatory.

For the yogurt, ingredients are milk and a cup of natural, unflavored yogurt. Skim, semi-skimmed, or whole milk will all work, both HTST and UHT. Note that the higher the fat content, the thicker, creamier and tastier your yogurt will be.

homemade yogurt ingredients

homemade natural yogurt

The natural yogurt will act as the starter culture, the live bacteria in it turn the milk to yogurt. Once you start making your own yogurt, you can use leftovers from each batch to culture your next. Just save the proper amount to use for this purpose. The recipe can be scaled up or down.

Homemade Natural Yogurt

  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

1 l/34 fl oz milk

160 g/5.64 oz plain natural yogurt

Directions

  1. Heat the milk in a heavy bottomed pan to just below boiling (95°C/200°F) stirring occasionally to avoid sticking to the bottom.
  2. Wait for milk to cool to warm, around 50-60°C/120-140°F
  3. Stir the yogurt with the milk using a whisk until dissolved
  4. Transfer mixture to a jug or jar, wrap container in a heavy scarf to slow cooling process.
  5. Let set on the counter for at least 4 hours or as long as overnight. Avoid jostling or stirring until yogurt has fully set.
  6. Cool.

Refrigerated, yogurt keeps for about 2 weeks.

For the butter, use whipping or heavy cream (30-36% fat content). You need to churn the cream until it divides to butter and buttermilk, which can be done with a whisk or an electric mixer. Save buttermilk for later use.

homemade butter ingredients

homemade butter with bread

Homemade Butter

  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

400 ml/13.5 fl oz heavy whipping cream, cooled

Directions

  1. Pour cream in a high sided mixing bowl to avoid splashes, and start whipping.
  2. You will eventually reach the state of whipped cream; continue whipping.
  3. You’ll notice that whipped cream starts to collapse and clump up. That’s what you’re looking for, keep whipping!
  4. When clusters of fat collect and buttermilk has precipitated, your butter is ready: drain buttermilk with the help of cheese cloth or a sieve, and transfer butter to a ramekin or muffin tin.
  5. Refrigerate. When butter has cooled, you can turn it out from the mold.

This amount of cream makes approximately 125 g/4.4 oz/1 stick butter and 245 g/8.6 oz buttermilk.

Next stop for me? Definitely cheese. I’m already eyeing some courses, can’t wait!

How do you feel about making some foods for yourself instead of opting for the convenient choice? Let me know in the comments!

Love,

Fruzsi

“Close-up of glass of milk” photo featured as title image © asierromeo / freepik

Friday Finds

In the waiting, great things can happen. Happy third weekend of Advent!

Swedish Christmas decor inspiration by Granit:

granit jul greens

Being real requires some courage:

authenticity

Natural birch bark ornaments by Vibeke Design:

birch bark stars

Your feathered friends need you! Great tit in snow via Ruth Burt International:

great tit in the snow

Vanilla crescents, Europe’s most popular Christmas cookie (image by Fork and Flower):

vanilla crescents

Happy weekend!

Fruzsi

Mulled Wine Season Is Here

mulled wine season title

It’s holiday season, y’all! But it’s cold and it’s getting dark early and has been very windy for a couple of days now too, and these conditions call for a little extra pampering. Cozy up, light a few candles and switch your well deserved glass of vino to a steaming cup of mulled wine!

I’m hoping to make you love this drink as much as I do, which is a tall order because I like it a lot. And I really mean a lot: come the first cool-ish breeze in early September, right until I disgrace myself by still drinking it in April, I don’t stop making it and I’m here to share how it’s done.

But first, a little history. Although some say it was Hippocrates himself who invented it (and recommended as remedy for various medical conditions – I like the guy’s thinking!), the practice of mulling wine was more likely introduced by the Romans.

As a matter of fact, their reasons were rather practical. Providing the proper conditions for making wine was, well, haphazard those days, so there was a good chance wine would go stale. Trying to save it and make it enjoyable drinkable, strong spices were added to coat the vinegary, sour taste and there you go, mulled wine was born.

Greek or Roman, one thing is for sure: we did not start drinking spiced wine just yesteryear. Luckily, we also got way better at wine making since, so mulling is not to mask unpleasantness any more either. Spiced wine is here to warm and cheer you up!

Several varieties spread and become popular throughout the continent, in my country for example, hot wine was already a Christmas staple in the era of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. Since this cold weather favorite is so well-known in Europe, it would be foolish to pick any recipe and call it the original. What we can safely say is that it’s done by heating wine with sugar and spices.

White, red and rose are all accepted, choose according to your preference. There is one rule you’d be wise to follow though: while you most definitely shouldn’t alter a very expensive bottle this way, quality is important. So no, you can’t make lousy wine any better by adding fragrant stuff to it. Another myth busted, sorry. The rule of thumb is to use wine you’d be willing to drink straight.

And now, adjust the sweetness to taste, and pick your spices. I mean, I’m not really being helpful here, am I? Ok, I’ll give you my secret recipe (shhh!), then some alternatives and additions you can work with to create your own personal favorite.

Oh, just one more thing! I may start a riot with this among mulled wine enthusiasts, but I do add water to the wine. I promise this won’t dilute or ruin your drink. You should know me better than that anyway!

mulling spices

Mulled White Wine

  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

1 bottle (750 ml) dry white wine

1 cup (250 ml) water

3 tbsp granulated sugar

1 cinnamon stick

8-10 cloves

Directions

Heat ingredients in a pot with the lid on. When liquid comes to a rolling boil, your mulled wine is ready to serve. If you’re making the drink in advance, fish spices out a few minutes after turning heat off (they tend to make the taste bitter if soaked for too long).

Mulled Red Wine

  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

1 bottle (750 ml) dry red wine

1 cup (250 ml) water

3 tbsp granulated sugar

1 cinnamon stick

8-10 cloves

6-8 allspice

1 star anise

Directions

Heat ingredients in a pot with the lid on. When liquid comes to a rolling boil, your mulled wine is ready to serve. If you’re making the drink in advance, fish spices out a few minutes after turning heat off (they tend to make the taste bitter if soaked for too long).

mulled red wine in mugs

Instead of simple granulated sugar, you may use brown sugar, honey, or even maple syrup to add depth to the flavor.

Fruits like citrus slices, peeled apples, pears or dried plums can also be added to the wine. Don’t discard, eat them!

Add nutmeg, cardamom, ginger, black pepper, bay leaf, coriander, thyme, or chili to your wine for an unexpected twist.

Got a scraped-out vanilla pod lying around? Pop that in the pot too, there’s still plenty of flavor left in it!

Disclaimer: No animals or human beings were harmed in the making of the photographs, although the Fiance and I got quite tipsy by the end of the sesh. Everything for the audience!

Love,

Fruzsi

“Top view of spices on the table” photo featured in title image by dashu 83 / freepik

Friday Finds

The month of lights, snow and feasts is here. December, you are the last one so be the best one!

No snow yet, but morning frosts have arrived (image via Tumblr):

frosty pine and haybales

One word: home.

r.m. drake quote

How cozy does this one look! (image via Pinterest)

breakfast in bed

Time to get festive (image via Tumblr):

candles in drinking glass

These poached pears look so incredible (photo by S. Tuck of From The Kitchen):

poached pears

Happy weekend!

Fruzsi