gingerbread village

Having spotted a charming image of flat gingerbread houses carved in low relief and filled with powdered sugar, we just had to try it for ourselves.

A whole wintry afternoon was spent in great joyful making. We altered our gingerbread recipe with 1/2 light rye and 1/2 whole spelt, maple syrup and birch sugar. Not a problem. Before we baked the cookies, we used any implement we could find – metal straws, toothpicks, ornate silverware, fine knives – to carve and draw into the house-shapes.

We thoroughly enjoyed researching old buildings and borrowing their architectural details. When we lived in Europe we were particularly fond of shops at the street level and apartments above, along Dutch canals, along Parisian streets. My youngest made her own patisserie, complete with striped gabled awnings, and baked goods in the windows!

We set a cup of birch sugar zinging in the blender for a few minutes til it was thoroughly powdered. When rubbed into the grooves in the baked, cooled cookies it had a better result than bought icing sugar (and a little less sweetness for our holiday diet, too).

This way of decorating feels like printmaking, like rubbing ink into an etched plate. Such fun.

‘Tis a lovely thing to do with family and friends on a chilly winter’s day.

pannetone

One chilly winter’s day in England, not so long ago, the great baker Aidan Chapman taught a few River Cottage students how to make pannetone. This winter fruit bread dates back to the Romans, and Milan is its birthplace. Aidan was kind enough to let us share his recipe, and so I pass it on to you, on the first day of winter.

pannetone recipe © elisa rathje 2013

We’re going to need:

  • 300g flour
  • 5g yeast
  • 10g sea salt
  • 100g sponge/starter
  • 2 eggs
  • 2tb yogurt
  • dried fruit
  • citrus zest
  • 2 drops pannetone essence
  • a splash of brandy or rum
  • butter for drizzling
  • a pannetone paper case or lined cake tin

pannetone recipe © elisa rathje 2013

Mix the ingredients with water to form a loose batter. Pour into a pannetone case or a lined cake tin, cover with a clean cloth and leave overnight, ideally up to eighteen hours. Snip the surface with scissors before baking 45 minutes in an oven preheated to 160C/320F. Melt the butter with rum or brandy, pierce the cooled loaf and drizzle it over. Dredge with icing sugar and serve, warmed, with ice cream.

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p>This recipe first appeared in a winter edition of appleturnover’s newsletter – get it here. You might like to read about making winter bread at River Cottage, too.

spice mill

As I was exploring theme and variation, the way I like to, this time on the subject of panna cotta (elderflower panna cotta, vanilla panna cotta, chocolate panna cotta…) I came across a great old kitchen tool belonging to my grandmother. Her old spice mill! A simple, practically unbreakable and good old fashioned solution to fresh spices. Many people wouldn’t accept anything less than grinding their own fresh coffee; I’m quite sure my grandmother felt the same about grinding spices.

old fashioned spice mill

The scent of cardamom that would’ve dominated this piece, through all my grandmother’s Finnish baking, is renewed by my experiment in coconut cardamom panna cotta. On an early spring cleanse, we couldn’t take any dairy, so I substituted with coconut milk. Did you see the original recipe?

grinding cardamom

This piece adjusts for a course or rough grind, like any good pepper mill worth its, well, salt. Not much to it, yet it will still be grinding long after I’m gone, no doubt. I’m inclined to purchase future spices to store whole, as they’ll keep their freshness far longer. Grinding spices is quite satisfying.

coconut cardamom panna cotta

Gorgeous. Who needs cake? If you’d prefer this treat in chocolate form, you can still catch the recipe in appleturnover’s spring letter.

cakestand

We put the homemade cakestand to work at a double-birthday, bearing one of a pair angel cakes to a crowd of finger-puppet-making children. I threw the cakestand on the wheel in England last spring. With pleasure.

handmade cakestand

First I threw a large plate onto a wooden bat, which is stuck to the wheel with clay. The plate is wired off but left on the bat to dry to leather-hard. I cut and played with the edges to scallop them, I love it! Then I centered the plate upside-down on the wheel. I scored a circle, and made a coil of new clay to fit, then threw the pedestal up off the plate with that clay. If you use too much water the plate will turn to mush, so it is a tricky business.

hand-thrown cakestand

I ought to have let the piece dry upside down as well; it fell somewhat, but is still charming.

scalloped cakestand

The children and I made spelt angel cakes, using my grandmother’s trusty sifter to get it as light as possible. I couldn’t find any icing sugar that was certain to be pure, so we decided to use whipped cream, sweetened with stevia to ice it. I coloured some of the cream pink with a bit of juice from raspberries. This is my first rather squishy experiment with a cake-decorating tool. Rosettes, how nice!

homemade cake & cakestand

My grandmother’s old cake stand carried one cake, and mine the other. I’m quite pleased with how the stands act like a plinth to a sculpture, adding a bit of ceremony to match such a treat as a birthday cake. Served with homemade raspberry lemonade in my grandmother’s extraordinarily fancy collection of china, it was a proper tea-party!

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p>(Update:Now you can special order a cakestand from appleturnover’s lakeside studio – just write me a note!)

wooden spoon

The humble wooden spoon has an honoured place amongst my beloved tried & trues. Plain, modest, and common, yes. Impossible to improve upon, remarkably adaptable, ecological, economical, ergonomic, and quite simply, essential, very much so!

wooden-spoons

I like to keep a collection of wooden spoons of varying shapes. (Why yes, that’s my handmade pitcher, all glazed and grand.) Some are reserved for tall pots of savoury things, others are strong and sturdy and kept for the physicality of baking. I try to keep the baking spoons from doing the work of the cooking spoons, so that I don’t end with a garlicky cake. I’ve a spoon of my grandmother’s with a lovely curved hook to balance the spoon on the edge of a pot. I’ve very old dark ones, rubbed with olive oil over the years, stained by berries and tomatoes. I’ve a weakness for variety and will buy unusual shapes as I come across them. They never scratch a surface, not smooth steel or enamel, nor do they bend, melt, or release toxins of any kind. Easily washed, easily stored. These are the sorts of ancient tools one keeps for a lifetime, or two. I’ve heard that even the finest chefs will point to the ordinary wooden spoon as the most essential tool in the kitchen. One day I’d like to make one myself.

Autumn sets me to baking, mm, maybe apple-cream-turnovers! Did you see appleturnover’s quarterly yet? Fratelli’s recipe comes with every subscription.