Thursday, December 26, 2013


Hier geht's zur deutschen Version dieses Posts


Americans and Germans have a lot in common. One is their love for cheese cake. Though both pastries taste great, Käsekuchen is distinctly different from its US cousin.

Cheesecake crust is made with cookie crumbs, very practical, and a good recycling of even stale cookies. German Käsekuchen has a short crust, more fuss, but buttery decadence.

The real difference, though, is the filling. American filling, made of mild, more neutral cream cheese, can be varied with many different flavors (like Limoncello-Cheesecake). Käsekuchen is made with quark, a fresh cow milk cheese that is less creamy, more acidic, and contains more water.

Limoncello Cheesecake - one of the many variations
Quark (curd cheese), the base for many different types of European pastries and desserts is unfortunately hard to find in the US, or outrageously expensive - and it doesn't taste the same.

Though in desserts quark will be often paired with fruits, German cheese cake bakers tend to purism, the filling might have raisins, and sometimes other fruits, like sour cherries or apples.

Another important difference: German Käsekuchen is notably less heavy and dense than its somewhat massive American counterpart (in spite of the short crust!).

Though I do like American cheese cake with its seemingly endless variations, I love my German Käsekuchen.

But how to re-create it in this sadly quark-less country?

I looked at the traditional recipe in the Mother of German Baking Books (in English: "German Baking Today,) and started with the adaptation process.

By separating and beating egg whites stiff you can make baked goods airier and lighter, I needed more egg white. I didn't want to use heavy cream, because cream cheese is creamy and rich by nature, but one more egg yolk wouldn't hurt.

I also upped the lemon taste - cream cheese is less acidic and, in my opinion, only a lemony Käsekuchen deserves the name.

The result of several cakes worth of testing was finally a "real" German Käsekuchen - my husband's absolute favorite (with cherries).

My husband loves Käsekuchen with cherries


125 g all-purpose flour
25 g whole wheat pastry flour
½ tsp. baking powder
50 g sugar
2 tsp. vanilla sugar, or 1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 pinch salt
1 egg
75 g butter

750 g cream cheese (regular or low fat)
100 g sugar, (or more if using a big lemon)
1 lemon, juice and zest
4 eggs, separated
2 cups sour cherries, pitted (fresh, frozen, or glass) (optional)
powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven at 400ºF/200ºC. Drain sour cherries, if using.

Mixer: Sift flour and baking powder in mixing bowl, then add other crust ingredients. Knead first at low speed, then increase gradually to medium speed as dough firms up. Knead until smooth.

Or simply process all ingredients in a Food Processor.

The Food Processor makes short work with the dough

Roll out 2/3 of dough over the bottom of a 28 cm/11" (not yet assembled) springform pan (greasing the bottom is not necessary). If the dough sticks to the rolling pin, cover it with plastic foil.

Grease and attach rim. Shape rest of dough into a long rope, adding 1 tbsp. flour if necessary. Press dough rope along the side of the pan to make a rim.

Or, simply, place all the dough in the pan, and press and pat it in place, pushing it up the sides to make a rim.

Prick dough several times with fork to prevent air bubbles from forming.

Bake crust for 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Lower oven temperature to 350ºF/175ºC.

Beat cream cheese, sugar and lemon until smooth

In mixer bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar, lemon juice and zest until smooth. Add egg yolks, one by one (don't overmix.)

In separate bowl, whisk egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold into cream cheese mixture.

Distribute cherries evenly on pre-baked crust. Pour cream cheese mixture over crust and smooth with spatula.

Pour filling over pre-baked crust and smooth with rubber spatula

Bake for 70 - 80 minutes, or until needle comes out clean. Leave cake in switched-off oven, door slightly ajar, to cool slowly, as long as possible.

Finish cooling on wire rack. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Käsekuchen tastes even better the next day, and keeps in a cool place for several days.

A quarter is gone already!

And if you visit Portland, ME you can even sample my delicious German Käsekuchen: the nice (and authentic) German Restaurant Schulte & Herr serves it, baked from my recipe!

(Completely updated and rewritten, originally posted 7/2011)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


Hier geht's zur deutschen Version dieses Posts

Back home in Germany, I never cared too much for Lebkuchen. They are one of the Christmas goodies that show up earlier and earlier in stores, and I hate being reminded of the cold and darkness of winter, when we still have a gorgeous late summer (and snow shoveling is something that I don't even want to think about!)

If "Cooks Illustrated" had not published a recipe for German spice cookies, I would never have dreamed of making them myself. Sheer curiosity prompted me to try it ("Americans and German Lebkuchen, haha!")

Freshly baked and incredibly good!
Reducing the sugar a little, and substituting some of the white flour with whole wheat, the result was absolutely amazing!

Instead of the usual chewy, dry-ish, generic store-bought stuff, these Lebkuchen were delicate and moist.

You could actually taste the toasted hazelnuts; and the spices were spicy in a good way, harmonious, not crude or overpowering.

The first time I made them they vanished so fast, I had to make two more batches, to sustain us until Christmas!

This year I went into a  Lebkuchen and Mohnstollen production frenzy, having to fulfill several special orders for both German specialties. But the spice cookies are so easy to make that even baking a hundred of them didn't feel too daunting.

I like nut bits to chew on, so I don't process them to a really fine meal. Moreover, I find that cookies with coarser nut meal spread less.

If you want you can brush the bottom with chocolate - but to me this seems a bit overkill. The cookies can really hold their own, they don't need any further enhancement!

These cookies can hold their own, they don't need further enhancement

 LEBKUCHEN - GERMAN SPICE COOKIES (adapted from "Cook's Illustrated")
(48 - 50)

177 g/6.2 oz whole hazelnuts, toasted
142 g/5 oz whole almonds, toasted
150 g/5.3 sugar
3 g/0.1 oz cinnamon, ground (1 ½ tsp.)
½ tsp. cardamom, ground
½ tsp. nutmeg, ground
3 tbsp. orange zest (2 oranges)
2 tbsp. lemon zest (2 lemons)
175 g/6.2 oz all-purpose flour
38 g/1.3 oz whole wheat pastry flour
10 g/0.4 oz Dutch cocoa (2 tbsp.)
¼ tsp. salt
85 g/3 oz unsalted butter (6 tbsp.)
150 g/5.3 oz light brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper (about 20 cookies per baking sheet.)

Process nuts, sugar and spices together in food processor to coarse meal. Add orange and lemon zest and pulse to combine.

Add eggs one at a time

Whisk flour, cocoa and salt together in a small bowl. In a stand mixer with paddle, beat butter and brown sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, last adding vanilla until combined.

Add nut mixture until just incorporated

Reduce mixer speed to low and slowly add flour mixture until combined (don't overmix!). Mix in ground nut mixture until just incorporated.

Working with a small truffle scoop, drop dough on baking sheets, 1.5 inches/4 cm apart.

A small truffle scoop works best for placing the cookies on the sheet

Bake cookies for 7 minutes, rotate sheets (if you bake on more than one tier) and continue baking for another 6 - 7 minutes, until edges are set, but centers are still soft, puffy, and elastic to the touch, with tiny holes and cracks. (Cookies will look raw between cracks, and seem underdone!)

Cookies will still look raw between cracks and seem underdone

Let cookies cool on the sheets for 10 minutes, then transfer them to a rack and let them cool completely.

Lebkuchen should be stored in a tin can in a cool place, they keep for at least two weeks.

Sunday, December 8, 2013


Версия для печати посетителей: это не то, что вы думаете!

Hier geht's zur deutschen Version dieses Posts

When I first caught sight of these pretty rolls in a Mexican bakery, I was totally smitten. But my enthusiasm quickly deflated when I took the first bite - the cute little shells were overly sweet, but other than that: no taste whatsoever!

Sadly, this was the case with almost all the pastries we had at the Riviera Maya: they looked very appetizing, but tasted only bland and sugary.

Conchas in a bakery in Tulum: pretty, but bland and sugary!

But shouldn't it be possible to bake Conchas whose attractive exterior matched a delicious interior? The idea intrigued me and kept me thinking. Back from our trip, I immediately searched for a recipe.

A Little Cup of Mexican Hot Chocolate didn't only have a recipe for this Pan Dulce, it also had a very entertaining story about a nightly encounter with a mysterious woman and her ardent desire for revenge!

Before we flew to Mexico this year, I finally wanted to tackle the Conchas. Remembering the "Mujer Misteriosa" and her dark desires, I dug through several pages with recipes until I finally rediscovered Clementina's blog post.

Mexico's Mayan ruins are worth a trip - here the recently discovered Ek Balam

Mexicans seem to have a real sweet tooth. All Concha recipes I had googled, contained lots of sugar. Being a gringo, I cut it down drastically, and, also, exchanged some of the flour with white whole wheat.

And how to force taste into even the lamest bread dough? Three words: slow overnight fermentation! I reduced the yeast, stretched and folded the dough, and put it to sleep in the fridge.

Rolling and cutting out the chocolate and cinnamon toppings evoked an early Christmas spirit, but with a little patience (and the help of a large cookie cutter) this was achieved, too (though some misshaped cookies had to be crushed, cooled and re-rolled.)

Baking brings out the pretty two-colored pattern

After their rise the Conchas looked already quite attractive, the cuts in the toppings had opened, and after baking the two-colored pattern had fully emerged.

Of course I was extremely eager to see whether my Conchas had escaped their compañeros' fate of bland and boring sweetness. We tried them, and - here they were, delicate rolls with a hint of cinnamon, topped by a crisp sugar cookie: a real treat!

Delicate rolls with a hint of cinnamon, topped by a crisp sugar cookie

BEST MEXICAN CONCHAS  (adapted from A Little Cup of Mexican Hot Chocolate)
(16 - 24 Rolls)

1/2 cup warm water
1 cup warm milk
75 g/2.6 oz butter, melted (1/3 cup)
1 large egg, at room temperature
5 g/0.2 oz instant yeast
420 g/14.8 oz bread flour (3 cups)
122 g/4.3 oz white whole wheat (1 cup)
1/2 - 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
60 g/2.1 oz sugar
5 g/1 tsp. salt

75 g/2.6 oz sugar (1/3 cup)
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
113 g/4 oz butter, softened (1 stick)
136 g/4.8 oz all-purpose flour (1 cup)
5 g/1 tbsp. cocoa

In medium bowl, stir together yeast and warm water. Add milk, sugar, melted butter, salt and egg, and mix well.

Mixing the wet ingredients
Add flour and cinnamon in mixer bowl. Gradually add wet ingredients, and mix at low speed until dough starts coming together (1-2 minutes.)

Let dough rest for 5 minutes.

Resume kneading at medium-low speed for 6 more minutes, adjusting with a little more water, if necessary. (Dough should still stick to bottom of bowl, but pull back from the sides.)

On a lightly oiled (or wet) work surface, with oiled (or wet) hands, stretch dough into a square. Then fold it from top and bottom in thirds, like a business letter. Do the same from left and right.

Gather dough into a ball, place (seam side down) in oiled bowl, cover and let rest for 10 minutes. Repeat stretches and folds three times more, at 10 minute intervals.

After the last fold, place dough, covered, overnight in the fridge. (It doesn't have to warm up before shaping the next day.)

Overnight the dough has nicely risen

For the toppings: beat sugar, cinnamon and butter in a medium bowl until fluffy.

Stir in flour and mix until it resembles a thick paste. Cut half of it off, and set aside.

Chocolate and cinnamon toppings

Mix second half of the paste with the cocoa.  Shape both toppings into disks, wrap in plastic foil and refrigerate to firm up (remove from fridge 15 minutes before using, so that they are not too hard to roll out!)

First shape dough pieces into rolls

On a lightly floured work surface, divide (cold) Concha dough into 16 - 24 equal pieces, then shape them into rolls. Place balls 2.5"/6 cm apart on 2 parchment lined cookie sheets. Using your hands, gently flatten each ball.

Gently flatten each ball

Roll chocolate and vanilla toppings (under plastic wrap) to about 0.1 inch/3 mm thickness. Using a bowl or glass (wider than your rolls) cut 8 - 12 circles from each topping. (I used a 3-inch/8-cm round cookie cutter to make 16 Concha toppings.) If dough gets too soft, put it briefly in the freezer.

Use a glass or a large round cookie cutter to cut out toppings

Gently lift each disk and place it over a roll. Using a small sharp knife or razor blade, score toppings in a clam shell (or other) pattern.

Decorate toppings with clam shell or other patterns

Cover Conchas and let them rise for about 60 minutes, or until an indentation, gently poked with your finger, doesn't fill up again.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

After proofing the cuts in the toppings have opened

Bake rolls for 20 minutes, until golden brown (rotate and swap baking sheets after half the baking time.)

Stored in a brown paper bag, the Conchas keep fresh for 3 days (thanks to the whole wheat part.)

They were even good for a swap: Steffi, owner of the nice German restaurant Schulte & Herr in Portland (Maine), treated us to a fabulous Gingerbread Cake, after I had given her a Concha to sample!

Cute baker's child in Tulum/Quintana Roo
Submitted at Yeast Spotting

Submitted at Panissimo:  Bread & Companatico                                       
                                        Indovina chi viene a cena