Baking


What a big month!

I resigned from my job.  Started another.  Prepared for Christmas, our special visitor and all our festive entertaining.  Oh, and somehow managed to squeeze in some Christmas baking in between!

The beginning of the month hailed the end of my job for six years.  I returned to work from maternity leave at the end of August, but quickly started to search out a part-time alternative – as the work-life balance in the Mélanger household lacked the necessary harmony, to say to least!  Fortunately, a few months later, I secured the perfect part-time alternative at a brand new company, and immediately made the switch.

But there was no time to dwell on leaving my old job, as Christmas was fast approaching.  Much to organise and prepare!

I have to say, this year has been one of my best Christmases yet, thanks to my pint-sized minature.

It may technically have been baby Melanger’s second Christmas, but it certainly felt like her first.  With bub only a few months old last year, the day came and went without much fanfare.  This year, however, was bursting with endless shrieks, giggles and laughter at the endless stream of everything ‘new’.

The tree attracted the greatest attention.  There was nonstop pointing and ‘talking’ with lots of fast hand movements.  And there were quite a number of dances in front of the tree, including the odd twirl or two for added effect.  It seems to have made quite an impression!

Our visit from bub’s Ukki, also added much to the festive cheer.  It was such a delight for baby Mélanger to meet her grandfather face-to-face for the first time, and for her Ukki to see her BIG personality first hand.

I also had a lot of fun baking up some new traditions this year.  The Joulutortut and Joulupulla were the firm favourites.  And I have no difficulty visualising baking these goodies up year after year (whilst trialing some new flavours and ideas, too!).  Many thanks again to my friend Celina Laaksonen who was an enthusiastic guide in this month’s menu.

I hope you all enjoyed the selection this month, too?  I may or may not take a little break in January, but I hope to post a new exciting theme again soon.  In the meantime, here is the round up of this month’s recipes.

:: I hope everyone had a safe and happy holiday and that 2012 brings much joy and happiness to you all xxx ::

{ Joulutortut :: Finnish Christmas Stars } For some time I have greedily eyed off these tender butter pastries, simply shaped as a festive star, and dotted with a small kiss of sweet prune filling in the centre.  This recipe produces a soft, cream based pastry.  It is incredibly simple to put together, and fairly easy to work with.  These little Finnish Christmas stars got an immediate thumbs up from Mr Mélanger{ Read more here…. }

 

  { Jouluriisipuuro :: Finnish Rice Pudding & Joulupiparkakut :: Gingerbread } Traditionally, this Christmas rice pudding can be served alongside a dried fruit soup (sekahedelmäkeitto), and there is always a whole blanched almond hidden inside (a bit like hiding a sixpence in a Christmas pudding!).  But I could not resist sharing this combination as a tribute to Celina!  The idea is genius.  The creaminess of the pudding, goes deliciously with the spicy, crunchy gingerbread.  I particularly love the gingerbread.  As soon as you warm up the spices with the syrup, the entire kitchen starts to smell a little of Christmas.  { Read more here …. }

  { Taatelikakku :: Finnish Christmas date cake } Finland has some light, fragrant and curiously bundt shaped Christmas cakes.  Far different from my Christmas cake memories.  I selected to bake up the taatelikakku, as part of this month’s experiment.  This is a wonderfully light yet moist cake.  The addition of coffee to the mixture adds a lovely depth of flavour against the sweetness of the dates.  And in my opinion, this cake should not be reserved just for Christmas.  It is simply too delicious!  { Read more here….}

  { Joulupulla :: Finnish Christmas buns }  This is really just a basic pulla dough shaped into the special festive shape.  I have made pulla more times than I can remember, and I have ultimated adapted this recipe from a few different sources (Beatrice Ojakangas, the Nordic Bakery Cookbook plus my friend Celina Laaksonen).  My father-in-law mentioned his mother’s pulla was less sweet, but he preferred the extra sugar in this recipe.  So feel free to experiment! { Read more here….}

I love a good plan.  My life is full of them . . . and lists and spreadsheets and to-do’s.

So when a spanner is thrown into my planning works, I have a tendency to get a little jumpy and anxious when things are in jeopardy.

My plan this Christmas was to trial run a few Finnish Christmas treats (to surprise my Finnish father-in-law, who was visiting baby Mélanger for the first time), then bake a few favourites on Christmas Eve (THE day to celebrate Christmas in Finland).

Good news is I successfully completed all my trial runs.

Bad news is on the morning of Christmas Eve, we blew a fuse and knocked out all the electricity in the house.

Not only did we have two fridge/freezers plus a deep freeze FULL of food, but more importantly, we had no oven!

Whilst Mr Mélanger and his father were out off to stock up on ice (if we needed to transfer food from the fridges), I was aimlessly staring at the kitchen completely puzzled how I was going to complete my festive baking tasks.

No electricity also means no internet, and no way to look up the name of an electrician.  So after a few “phone a friend” calls to my mum and sister-in-law, we manage to gather a big list of electricians in the area.  With luck, we finally managed to contact someone who not only answered their phone on Christmas Eve, but actually turned up to the house at the stated time.

In the end, we were about 6 hours behind schedule, and with a deck full of company arriving in only a few short hours, I did manage to whip up a batch of Joulupulla for my father-in-law for our well deserved afternoon coffee break.  The smell of the bread baking immediately brought back memories for him, and he eagerly taste tested these almost straight out of the oven.

For my trial batch (the images shown here), in addition to the traditional cardamom flavoured Joulupulla, I also created a saffron flavoured bun as a little nod to the old Swedish influences in Finland.

{ Joulupulla :: Finnish Christmas buns }

This is really just a basic pulla dough shaped into the special festive shape.  I have made pulla more times than I can remember, and I have ultimated adapted this recipe from a few different sources (Beatrice Ojakangas, the Nordic Bakery Cookbook plus my friend Celina Laaksonen).  My father-in-law mentioned his mother’s pulla was less sweet, but he preferred the extra sugar in this recipe.  So feel free to experiment!

* Ingredients *
250ml whole milk
7g active dry yeast
85g caster sugar
3g salt
7g ground cardamom (or to taste)
1 egg, beaten
450g-500g plain flour
75g butter, melted and cooled
1 egg, beaten to glaze
Sultanas/raisins to decorate

* Directions *
Warm milk in a small saucepan until it comes to the boil, then allow to cool until it reaches about 45C.  In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm milk.  Add one teaspoon of sugar and let stand for 5 minutes until yeast foams.  To the yeast, stir in the remaining sugar, salt, cardamom, egg and enough flour to make a batter (about 150-200g).  Beat until the dough is smooth and elastic. Add half of the remaining flour and beat well.  Add the melted butter and stir well. Beat again until the dough looks glossy. Stir in the remaining flour until the dough is stiff (you may not need all the flour).  Turn the dough out of the bowl onto a floured surface, cover with an inverted mixing bowl, and let rest for 15 minutes.  Knead the dough until smooth and satiny.  Place in a lightly greased mixing bowl, and turn the dough to grease the top.  Cover with a clean dishtowel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.  Punch down, and let rise again until almost doubled. About 1 hour.  Turn out again on to a floured surface, and divide into 12 parts weighing about 80g each. Roll each piece into a 15cm strand. Then, with a sharp knife split both ends one third of the way towards the centre.  Then curl up each of the ends.  Place the buns onto baking sheets lined with greaseproof paper. Let rise for 30 minutes.  Brush each bun with egg wash and dot with raisins/sultanas in the curled ends.  Bake at 180C for 15-18 minutes. Check occasionally — because the bottom can brown easily.

Makes 12 buns

:: Yeastspotting ::
I am submitting this Joulupulla to Yeastspotting.

When I think of Christmas cake, I think of a square, fruit ladened dense cake that is best served in thin slices.  So I was excited to find some departures to the cake of my childhood whilst exploring sweet festive traditions from Finland.

Firstly, the hugely popular spice cake, maustekakku and also a date flavoured cake, taatelikakku.  Both seemed to be light, fragrant and curiously bundt shaped.  Far different from my Christmas cake memories.

For the purposes of my experimentation this month, I selected to bake up the taatelikakku, as in my mind, it was a slightly more unusual option.  I hunted down a recipe at Martat and with Google Translate at the ready, was able to pull together a set of ingredients and directions.  (Phew!)

This is a wonderfully light yet moist cake.  The addition of coffee to the mixture adds a lovely depth of flavour against the sweetness of the dates.  And in my opinion, this cake should not be reserved just for Christmas.  It is simply too delicious!

{ Taatelikakku :: Finnish Christmas date cake } Recipe adapted from The Martha Organisation

* Ingredients *
90ml water
130g dates (1 cup)
110g caster sugar
85g butter
½  teaspoon baking soda
½ cup cold coffee
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
200g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

* Directions *
Preheat the oven to 170C.  Prepare a 4-cup bundt tin and set aside.  Mix the flour and baking powder together in a bowl.  Set aside.  Melt the butter and set aside.  In a small saucepan, heat the water, dates and sugar until the dates start to soften and the sugar dissolve.  Add the baking soda towards the end and set aside. Add the coffee and the vanilla to the mixture to cool slightly.  Then add the egg and stir to combine.  Finally, add in the flour until incorporated.  Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, and bake for 30-35 minutes.

 

Blogging has given me the opportunity to meet people from around the world who share a similar passion for baking.

Back in 2010, I received a comment from a girl in Finland – who I later came to find out was a professional baker in Espoo.  The lovely Ms Laaksonen has been a great “penpal” ever since, and also an always enthusiastic guide about baking, in particular Finnish specialities.

She has helped me enormously with oodles of background detail on Christmas baking in Finland, and provided endless tips and ideas for this month’s theme.

During our correspondence on Christmas baking, she happened to mention she adores Finnish Christmas rice pudding (Jouluriisipuuro) with gingerbread (Joulupiparkakut) crumbled on top.

Traditionally, the Christmas rice pudding can be served alongside a dried fruit soup (sekahedelmäkeitto), and there is always a whole blanched almond hidden inside (a bit like hiding a sixpence in a Christmas pudding!).  But I could not resist sharing this combination as a tribute to Celina!

The idea is genius.  The creaminess of the pudding, goes deliciously with the spicy, crunchy gingerbread.  I particularly love the gingerbread.  As soon as you warm up the spices with the syrup, the entire kitchen starts to smell a little of Christmas.  I will be whipping out a few more batches of this cookie dough!

{ Jouluriisipuuro :: Finnish Rice Pudding } Recipe by Anja Hill from The Food & Cooking of Finland

* Ingredients *
90g short grain rice
1.2 litres of milk
Pinch salt
15ml ground cinnamon
200ml double cream
50g caster sugar
25g toasted flaked almonds

* Directions *
Put the rice and milk in a pan and bring to the boil.  Add the salt, lower the heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour, until the rice has absorbed most of the milk and is almost tender.  Stir frequently to prevent the rice from sticking and burning on the bottom of the pan.  Add the cinnamon, cream, sugar and almonds to the rice and cook for further 10 minutes, until the rice is tender.

{ Joulupiparkakut :: Gingerbread } Recipe by Anja Hill from The Food & Cooking of Finland

* Ingredients *
100ml golden syrup
5ml grated orange rind
5ml ground cinnamon
2.5ml ground pepper
2.5ml ground ginger
2.5ml ground cloves
5ml ground cardamom
10ml baking soda
100ml double cream
200g unsalted butter, softened
100g caster sugar
1 egg, beaten
400g plain flour

* Directions *
Put the syrup, orange rind and spices in a pan and heat generally until warm.  Remove from heat.  Mix the baking soda into the cream. Put the butter and sugar in a large bowl and whisk together until fluffy.  Whisk in the warm spiced syrup, the egg and cream mixture, until well combined. Add the flour and mix together to form a dough.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refridgerate overnight. Preheat the oven to 200C.  On a floured surface, roll out the dough to a 3mm thickness.  Place a sheet of baking parchment over the top of the dough, then turn the dough over so the paper is underneath.  Using round cutters, cut out the dough, re-rolling as necessary.  Bake for 7-10 minutes until light brown.

It was only a few short weeks ago, whilst enjoying a weekend luncheon (and a delicious bite of quiche!) with my sister and her family, that I remarked how much I love pastry.  My sister simply nodded in agreement.  A nod that conveys many years of recognition and understanding.  No words needed to be uttered.

It is then very surprising that it has taken me so long to bake one of the stars of the Finnish Christmas table.  For some time I have greedily eyed off these tender butter pastries, simply shaped as a festive star, and dotted with a small kiss of sweet prune filling in the centre.  The recipe has long been bookmarked with a clear yellow post-it-note in my copy of Beatrice Ojakangas’, The Great Scandinavian Baking Book.

Beatrice explains that when these prune-filled stars are baked and served, it signals the beginning of the Christmas holidays.  Apparently the day after Christmas is a day for visiting and comparing the quality of the stars from one household to the next.  Everyone has their own favourite recipe, varying from a flaky puff pastry, to a rich and tender butter pastry.

This recipe produces a soft, cream based pastry.  It is incredibly simple to put together, and surprisingly, in the humidity and the heat that is Brisbane this time of year, fairly easy to work with.  A trial run before our Christmas guest arrives, proved very successful.  These little Finnish Christmas stars got an immediate thumbs up from Mr Mélanger.  I will definitely be baking a fresh batch of Joulutortut to surprise my father-in-law on his visit!

{ Joulutortut  :: Finnish Christmas Stars } Recipe by Beatrice Ojakangas from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book

* Ingredients *
2 cups pitted prunes
Water to cover
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
3 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups heavy cream, whipped
1 cup softened butter
Beaten egg, for glaze

* Directions *
Cover the prunes with water and simmer slowly until very soft.  Puree and add the lemon juice and sugar.  Cool.

For the pastry, mix the flour and baking powder. Stir into the whipped cream and knead in the softened butter.  Shape dough into a ball and chill overnight.

On a floured board, roll out pastry to 1/4 inch or 6mm thickness. Fold dough into third, folding first one third over the centre, then the opposite third over the centre.  Roll out to seal the layers.  Turn dough and fold again into thirds, making the dough into a perfect square.  Roll out, retaining the square shape, to make an 18 inch or 45 cm square.  Cut into 3 inch or 7.5 cm squares.  With a sharp knife, make cuts from the corners towards the centre of the squares about half way along.  Place a spoonful of the prune filling onto the centre of each square. Shape into pinwheel stars by lifting every other split corner towards the centre onto the filling.  Cover baking sheets with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 400F / 200C.  Place filled stars onto the baking sheets, and brush with the glaze. Bake for 7-10 minutes or until lightly browned.

Makes 36

There will be a little Nordic cheer added to the holiday table this year.

In fact, there will be much covert experimental baking happening over the next few weeks, as I prepare myself to surprise my (Finnish) father-in-law with some holiday memories when he visits us for Christmas.

(No pressure…..!)

This will be the first time my father-in-law will meet baby Mélanger face to face.  This Christmas could not be a more perfect time to start some Finnish traditions for baby Melanger, with her ukki (grandfather) visiting, and her connection to Finland right here, sharing the holiday with us.

So here is hoping the Mélanger kitchen will be filled with pastries, cookies, cakes and breads that no Finnish Christmas table would be without.

But only 18 days until Christmas Eve, so I better get the oven on!

The cookie jar has certainly been filled to the brim with buttery, sugary treats this month.

Slice and bake shortbread filled with fruit and nuts and flavoured with the scent of rosemary.  Quick and simple shortbread bars with a creamy custard flavour.  Gluten free inspired shortbread with some punchy zesty tang.  And lastly, a healthier shortbread option packed with oats and wholemeal flour.

These cookies have been shared with friends, family, and also enjoyed as a quick little treat.  And although technically the entire round up may not be classified as shortbread, as such, they could all certainly be labelled as delicious!

Are you planning on making shortbread this holiday season?  What is your flavour inspiration for your selection?

Next month, I will be tackling some new Christmas food traditions for the Mélanger family.  Stay tuned….

In the meantime, here is the round up of the month.  I hope you enjoyed it!

{ Rosemary, apricot and almond shortbread }  The sugar and fresh rosemary from the garden was processed to incorporate the flavour without the texture.  With the crunch from the almonds, as well as the additional sweetness from the apricots, this little rosemary flavoured cookie turned out to be delicious experiment.  { Read more here … }

 

 

  { Melt ‘n’ mix custard shortbread }  The original recipe for this quick and easy shortbread calls for cornflour where I have used custard powder.  I had the idea of using custard powder after making an apple pie recipe from Ben O’Donoghue (actually his Gran’s recipe) using custard powder in the pastry.  It produces such a delicious, creamy flavour.  { Read more here … }

 

 { Gluten-free citrus currant shortbread } Working with gluten free flour, I was a little nervous that the dough would be difficult, but on the contrary, it was a breeze to work with.  All in all, it came together very quickly.  Taste wise, these little shortbreads were deliciously buttery, soft and crumbly.  And of course, bursting with the tang of citrus and currants!  { Read more here … }

 

  { Oat & wholemeal shortbread bars }  In this little cookie that can be enjoyed with perhaps a little less guilt, plain, white flour has been replaced with a combination of wholemeal (whole wheat) flour and rolled oats.  The quantity of sugar has been squeezed down to an almost modest amount. And although the butter component is still relatively high (it is shortbread, after all!), an egg has been added to boost protein.  { Read more here … }

Believe it or not, I do not consume vast quantities of butter, sugar and white flour with unbridled abandon.  Particularly now I am a mother (and responsible for not just my own nutrition), I do have a heightened awareness of what I eat.

Many items that I bake and share on this blog, are, to be perfectly frank, only ‘sometimes treats’.  Certainly not everyday extravagances.  (Well, not now!)

More and more, I am trying to healthify recipes where I can to create an end product with greater nutritional value.

When it comes to shortbread, and its inherently high levels of butter and sugar, there is only so much you can do.  But for this next cookie in the line up, I thought I would give it a shot.

Plain, white flour has been replaced with a combination of wholemeal (whole wheat) flour and rolled oats to add fibre.  The quantity of sugar has been squeezed down to an almost modest amount to reduce the intake of refined sugars.  And although the butter component is still relatively high (it is shortbread, after all!), an egg has been added to boost protein.

And for the taste?  Certainly not as sweet as some of its shortbread counterparts, but certainly a cookie that will satisfy, with perhaps a little less guilt!

{ Oat & wholemeal shortbread bars }  Original recipe by Julia Tuomainen @ Mélanger

* Ingredients *
150g wholemeal flour
150g rolled oats, proceedd
75g brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
150g unsalted butter
1 egg
1/2 cup ‘no added sugar’ jam (I used the ‘French’ jam in tall glass jar)

* Directions *
Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl, and add in the processed oats.  Set aside. In the bowl of a mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add the egg and mix well, then add the flour mix and stir only to combine.  Spread half of the dough on the base of a prepared 18 x 27cm baking tin.  Wrap the remaining dough in plastic wrap.  Chill both for 30-60 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 180C.  Spread the base of the dough with the jam, then crumble the reamining dough on the top.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until slight brown.  Transfer to a cooling rack.

Makes approx. 12-15 cookies

It is amazing what can catch your eye.  Innocently trawling the aisles of my local supermarket recently (carefully focused on my shopping list, of course!), the line “with the tang of citrus and currants” boldly printed on a packet of plain, sweet biscuits, jumped out at me.

I paused in my thoughts, reflecting that citrus and currants is such a winning combination of flavours, but sadly, not a combination I have used recently.  So as I turned my trolley into the next aisle, I decided to use the inspiration for the next shortbread in the line up this month. (Why not?)

Back home, I extracted the necessary ingredients from the pantry.  With everything neatly on the counter ready to go, I hesitated.  Drumming my fingers, I was unsure I wanted to go down the standard shortbread cookie route.  I was keen to try something new.  Experiment a little.

I returned the plain flour, and grabbed some rice flour and tapioca flour as a replacement.  I wanted to try my hand at some gluten free shortbread.

I was a little nervous that the dough would be difficult, but on the contrary, it was a breeze to work with.  All in all, it came together very quickly.  Taste wise, these little shortbreads were deliciously buttery, soft and crumbly.  And of course, bursting with the tang of citrus and currants!

 

{ Gluten-free citrus currant shortbread } Original recipe by Julia Tuomainen @ Mélanger

* Ingredients *
75g rice flour
75g tapioca flour
75g corn flour
10g baking powder
120g butter
2 tsp vanilla
30g icing sugar
2 tsp lemon and orange zest
30g currants

* Directions *
Sift the flours together and set aside.  In the bowl of a mixer, cream the butter, vanilla and sugar until fluffy.  Add the flours and then stir in the zest and currants.  Turn the dough out and shape into a log that is 5 cm in diameter. Wrap the log in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.  Preheat the oven to 180C.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Slice rounds 2cm thick. (Don’t worry if the cookie breaks, just squeeze it back together.)  Place the cookies on the baking sheets, and bake for 12-15 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack.

Makes approx. 12-15 cookies

 

Once upon a time, there was a girl called Julia who would leisurely spend hours baking.

She would lovingly flip through food magazines, cookbooks and blogs admiring various recipes and ideas.  She would craft endless lists of cookies, cakes, breads and pastries to make.  She would happily dream of creating elaborate, and even simpler treats, knowing she would never need to consider short cuts, as time was her best friend.

But then Julia became a working mother, and time changed.  Forever.

Julia had an ‘ah-ha’ moment one day, finally realising the charm of time saving recipes.  She now seeks to create a versatile list of her own good ideas.  This custard flavoured shortbread is one such recipe in the repertoire.

After a quick measure, melt and mix of the ingredients, Julia can pop this shortbread in the oven within minutes.

What a good idea!

{ Melt ‘n’ mix custard shortbread } adapted from Australian Women’s Weekly

The original recipe calls for cornflour where I have used custard powder.  I had the idea of using custard powder after making an apple pie recipe from Ben O’Donoghue (actually his Gran’s recipe) using custard powder in the pastry.  It produces such a delicious, creamy flavour.

* Ingredients *
250g unsalted butter
35g icing/confectioners’ sugar
55g caster sugar
40g custard powder
360g plain/all purpose flour
Pinch salt

* Directions *
Melt butter over low heat, allow to cool slightly.  Sift icing sugar and custard powder into bowl, add sugar.  Add butter and beat mixture until thick and creamy.  Add sifted flour and mix well.  Press mixture into 18x28cm (7×11 inch) lamington tin, smooth over with a spatula; mark into fingers with sharp knife.  Prick each finger decoratively with fork.  Bake at 180C/350F for 25-30 minutes or until light golden.  Cut into fingers while still warm.  Cool in tin.

Next Page »