05 October 2008
Usually, my first reaction to the whole gamut of christmas food appearing all over the shops at the end of September is one of slightly disgusted irritation.
It is September, dammit, and the whole golden October still ahead of us. Christmas cookie season starts with the first day of December, not a day earlier.
That noble sentiment usually lasts for about two days.
And then, there is this inevitable, creeping feeling of dread. Dread that I will, once again, buy a whole heapin' pile of that stuff as soon as I get the chance.
As you can imagine, I am a little picky when it comes to food. Sweets I am especially careful of what I eat and what not. And, you see, I love Dominosteine, a German confection of gingerbread layered with jelly and marzipan. But only from one very specific producer. And said specific producer has that slightly annoying habit of only delivering once to all the retailers at the beginning of the season, and if some of their stuff runs out of stock mid-November, then it's tough luck for all the customers.
(Maybe that's just an error of perception on my part, but after having spent two Decembers already without, I won't err again.)
So I buy my Dominosteine the very first week of October and hide them in the larder. And I almost always manage not to eat any of them before the first of December.
But this year, things were a little different.
Sure, the whole line of Christmas cookies and whatnots appeared in the shops right at the end of September, as usual.
But this time, my first tought wasn't said slightly disgusted irritation. No, my first thought actually was that there was still one of my homemade Stollen of last Christmas in the larder, and that I should really find a way to use or to get rid of it.
And the second, much more jolting thought was that this year, I mustn't forget, absolutely and under no circumstances, to make Pfefferkuchen dough in time. Pfefferkuchen, literally 'peppercake' is a spicy, soft version of gingerbread. And both the dough and the resulting cookies have to rest for a few weeks each before they are good. Unfortunately last year, I only remembered half-way into November, so it was too late by far.
So there is a certain 'pre-start' to the Christmas season in my household once again this year. I have prepared the Pfefferkuchen-dough on the first weekend in October, we will bake the cookies the first weekend in November together with the Stollen, so all will be nicely matured the first days of December.
Alright, this year the first sunday of Advent is going to be November 30th already, so it's not exactly working out, but that's a minor flaw, don't you think?
Anyway, I will add this recipe as some sort of an extra to my weekly posts, as I won't be able to show the results until November. This particular one has been handed down in our family from my wife's paternal grandmother, and legend has it, from her mothers before.
Of course, I couldn't quite resist to meddle with the original a little. I've added some more butter, mostly for handling, as the dough is very sticky and every tiny bit of fat helps tremendously. If it improves the taste, we will see in eight weeks.
And I evened out the amounts of spices and added ground anisseed, for pure olfactory balance. Once again, it'll take eight weeks before we can see how it pans out.
Grandma Ursula's Pfefferkuchen
(makes for a lot of cookies)
500g of runny honey, the darker the better
300g sugar (I prefer unrefined cane sugar)
1kg all-pupose flour
75g dark cocoa powder
100g raisins (Zante currants)
100g candied orange peel
100g candied lemon peel (succade)
100g ground almonds
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground macis
1 teaspoon ground clover
1 teaspoon ground anisseed
3 corns black pepper, finely ground
2 teaspoons ammonium carbonate (salt of Hartshorn, 'Hirschhornsalz', should be available in the pharmacy)
2 teaspoons potassium carbonate (Potash, 'Pottasche', same as above)
In a small pot, gently heat the honey, the sugar and the butter, until the sugar is halfway dissolved.
Do not boil the mix. This is what I call 'kitchen napalm', and it is getting really, really hot and flies and sticks and hurts like you won't believe. Please, take care.
The candied citrus peels should be chopped finely, I usually mix them with the ground almonds and run them trough the food processor until the look like coarse sand and smell delicious.
Next, add all the dry ingredients in a big, heatproof bowl and mix thorougly until well combined.
Have the buttered honey cool down for a moment, then add the whole bunch to the spiced flour. Mix with the kneading hooks of your electric mixer. Add the eggs and kned until smooth and well combined.
Now as the the rising agents get in contact with the warm liquid, all hell will be breaking loose in your bowl. For one, the pale mix with turn dark brown where moist, it'll start to bubble and foam wildly if the honey is still too hot and most important of all - it'll stink.
Imagine an onverheated pack of chemical hairdye exploding between bottles of cough sirup, and you get the image. Hot ammonia with spices, lovely. Hardly bearable, but it'll pass. I promise.
Reason for this is that the honey ought to be still warm at least, and very runny. Because as it cools down, the dough will get very tough and even more sticky, and no fun at all to work with. So bear with the smell, you won't notice a thing in four weeks when it's time to make the cookies.
Leave the dough to cool. Wrangle into a manageable shape (I prefer a large roll, but a ball would do just fine as well, I assume) and store in an airtight container for at least two weeks, ideally four.
I wrap the dough up in a generous layer of clingwrap, with another layer of tinfoil for good measure. Worked perfectly so far, but I think any airtight container will work.
No unsavoury comments, please, I've had enough of that this year already, and it's not the dough's fault.
More on this project in four weeks.