Monday, October 19, 2009

English Butter Cookies

English Butter Cookies
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

These cookies are easy to make and can be stored in an air tight box for some time. They are crunchy and have a bite. Something for a hot cup of tea or to go along with a strong coffee.

(will make enough)

375 g all purpose flour
200 g brown sugar
2.5 teaspoons vanilla sugar
250 g butter

Mix all ingredients with dough hooks. Then knead by hand until dough is formed. Divide dough into several pieces and form rolls of about 2 to 3 cm in diamter. Wrap dough rolls into clinch film and put into fridge for about an hour or until dough is hard.

Preheat oven to 180°C to 200°C. Line out a baking tray with baking paper.

Cut 0.5 cm thick slices from rolls and place them on baking tray. Bake for about 10 minutes until lightly browned. Take out of oven and let cool on cooling rack.

Side remark: you can store the dough tightly wrapped in clinch film in the freezer for quite a while. So you will baked english cookies in no time for unexpected guests.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Früchtebrot (Fruit Bread)

Fruit Bread (2/2)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

What to make for Advent and Christmas this year? Fruit Bread is a follow up posting to "Zimtsterne" in which I share some of the recipes I have made the last years, but which I didn't blog about so far. If you are interested in more advent and christmas photos visit my Christmas Bakery set on Flickr. Drop me a note, if you are interested in these recipes too.

Another of my favorites for advent and christmas season: Früchtebrot (Fruit Bread). I always have to remember myself to make it in advance, because the different flavors need some time to blend. At least it needs one day before you can cut it into slices. But it is certainly better if you pack it tightly in aluminium foil and give it a few days more. This fruit bread is made with Backobst (dried fruit) and I combine different fruit like figs, prunes, apricots, cranberries and dates. What is a must are raisins and currants which are the backbone of this bread. If you can't get currants, use raisins only or replace currants by cranberries. For the fruit bread you need rye flour. If you can not get it, you can use unbleached wheat flour.

(for one loaf)

125 g butter
125 g sugar
4 medium sized eggs
peel of one lemon
250 g rye flour
2.5 teaspoons baking powder (German users: 1 package of)
300 g dried fruit of your choice
125 g raisins
125 g currants

Preatheat oven to 150°C. Grease loaf pan with butter. Then add all-purpose flour to it to cover the butter layer. Remove any flour which don't stick to the butter. Put loaf pan into freezer until use. Butter, flour and freezing will make it easier to remove bread after baking.

Cut the dried fruit into small cubes. Use the fruit you like most. I always use a mixture of plums, apricots, figs, dates and cranberries (for the nice red color)

Mix butter and sugar until creamy. Add one egg and mix on medium speed for about one minute. Repeat step with the remaining three eggs. Add the finely grated peel of one lemon. Mix the flour with baking powder, sieve and add to the butter mixture. Mix just until combined. Fold in dried fruit, raisins and currants. Pour into the prepared loaf pan form.

Bake for 30 minutes at 150°C. After 30 minutes increase temperature to 180°C and bake for another 30 minutes. Fruit bread is done when a toothpick comes out clean. Let the fruit bread cool in form for about 10 minutes. Then remove from pan and let cool completely on a cooling reack. Wrap tightly in aluminium foil and store for at least one day.

On Food Photography
I make this bread every year and since 2006 I have also photographed it. The photo shown at the top of this posting is from 2008 presenting clear lines and shapes. The composition is based on a first order color contrast with blue as the dominating color, followed by by red and green in the back. I have chosen the blue as main color to separate the yellow to brown notes of the fruit bread from red and green to get more color contrast. Sharpnes and focus was set to the center slice showing the dried fruit pieces well.

In 2006 I have chosen a close up setting cropped to just two slices. Lines and shapes are dominating in this more monochromatic color scheme. The dark dried fruit show a almost metallic reflection.

fruit bread
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

In 2007 I have tried a small bundt cake form for a different food styling. The bread was a bit on the dry side due to the small baking form (I should have used a regular sized bundt cake form). Composition wise I used a high key setting with a bright pink as the main background color. A white dolly and christmas tree ball were used as props. The main viewing line is the descending diagonal line from upper left to lower right. The blow out of the hightlights were used here itentionally as a contrast to an otherwise "dark" season.

Fruit Bread
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

The progression of photos from 2006 to 2008 is quite interesting for me. I don't know, if I would do the photos the same way again. Food photography has changed in time and so did mine. Let see with what I will come up with this year.

If you like this post, you may also like:
Zimtsterne (Cinnamon Star Cookies)

Friday, October 9, 2009


Zimtsterne (2/4)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

This photo, although dated back to October 2007, is one of my photos on Flickr which gets daily visits and around this time of the year it is getting more visits per day. So I thought I share the recipe for it here on my blog too.

Zimtsterne or cinnamon star cookies are very traditional cookies during advent and christmas time in Germany. The dough tends to be sticky (sometimes very sticky), so that everyone loves to eat them but don't like to make them. If you cool the dough in the fridge for a few hours the dough isn't that sticky. A while ago I found a star cookie cutter which could be opend and this helps a lot to get the cookies out of the cutter. It is much easier to remove the cookies from this type of cookie cutter than with the good old star cookie cutter. If you want to make Zimtsterne I would suggest to get one. To get the dough out of the cutter could be a pain in the neck otherwise.

(for about 40 cookies)

...for the dough
300 g almonds
100 g powder sugar
50 g all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon powder
2 egg whites

...for the meringue topping
1 egg white
200 g powder sugar (sifted)
1 dash salt
some milk

...for working
grounded almonds

You can prepare the dough in advance. Blanch the almonds in boiling water for one minutes. Rinse with cool water and remove the skin (or buy already peeled almonds). Ground them. I suggest to use freshly grounded almonds and not the store bought grounded almonds. Make some more grounded almonds because you need some for working later with the dough.

Sift the cater sugar into a bowl. Add the other dry ingredients for dough and mix. Add egg whites and knead until a still sticky dough is formed. Wrap into cling film and put into the fridge for 1 - 6 hours.

Preaheat oven to 170°C and line out the baking tray with parchment paper.

For meringue glaze beat egg white with salt until stiff. While still beating add the sifted powederr sugar by and by to make meringue. The meringue should have a consistency that you can spread it with a brush onto the dough later. It should have such a creamy consistency, that you can spread it on the cookies and will stick on the dough but not running down. Add just a little milk to get the right consistency (you mightneed about 1 to 3 tablespoons, but not more).

Get the dough out of the fridge and roll it out between two layers of parchment papers or cling film (this will prevent the dough from sticking to the rolling pin). The dough sould be about 1 cm thick or a little less. After you have rolled out the dough spread a thin layer of the meringue topping on the dough. Now you need the star cookie cutter which can be opened. Put the stars on the tray. Knead the rest of the dough again and add some grounded almonds, so that the dough is not too sticky. Repeat the steps of making the stars.

Bake the cookies for about 10 - 12 minutes. Watch them carefully, because the meringue topping should not be browned. Take them out of the oven and let the Zimtsterne cool completely on a cooling rack. Store them in an airtight container.

The cookies will get better in taste the next days, because the flavors blend more and more. But ours are always gone too soon.

Zimtsterne (4/4)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

About the photos
You can see how the meringue topping is spread. This would be hardly to achive with a star cutter and do the glazing after you have cut out the cookies.
To get a brilliant white in the 1st photo I have used almost direct light from a window. I didn't softened it. To reduce shadows and to balance the dark-light contrasts I have used several bounces for fill lights. In the second photo I have the bright light on the center cookie and partially shaded the front one. If I would have left this in bright light too, it might have been a bit distracting by being out of focus. In the 2nd photo I have not used as much fill light (especially in the back) to get some shadows back.

If you are interested in more advent and christmas photos visit my Christmas Bakery set on Flickr. Drop me a note, if you are interested in these recipes too.

If you like this post, you may also like:
Früchtebrot (Fruit Bread)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Plum Cake

Plum Cake (Pflaumekuchen) is a traditional German cake in late summer and early autumn. The classic one is based on a yeast dough and baked on a baking tray. In Germany there are different names like Zwetschgenkuchen, Zwetschgendatschi and Pflaumenkuchen. Zwetsche or Zwetschge is the more tart damson or prune plum, which is often used for baking. A plum cake based on a yeast dough is the one I like most, but it needs some time.
Last weekend I wanted to have plum cake, but didn't want to spend the time in the kitchen. In a newspaper I found a more easier one made in a quiche form. So I gave it a go. And the result was great. It is easy to make, do no take much time AND it is delicious.

© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

Pflaumenkuchen (Plum cake)
(for one quiche form)

100 g softened butter
70 g sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla sugar
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons greek yogurt (10% fat)
1 dash salt
200 g flour
0.5 teaspoons baking powder
Plums, Prune plums (around 800g, but quantity depends on how close you like the plums)
Sugar mixed with a bit cinnamon powder (cinnamon sugar)

Prepare the plums. Cut plums lengthwise and pit them. Cut the still connected plum halves once again lengthwise, but do not cut through (see photo).

Preheat oven to 170°C. Grease a quiche form (28 cm in diameter).

Mix butter, sugar, vanilla sugar and salt until creamy. Add egg yolk and beat for about one minute. Add yogurt and mix until blended. Mix flour with baking powder and add to the butter mixture. With a wooden form and mix gently until a dough begins to form. Now use your finger tips and compress the dough like you would do it for a shortcrust dough. But do not knead extensively, the dough should be crumbly. Fill the dough into the quiche form and arrange it evenly on the bottom and press it slightly. Form with your fingers a border (the dough can be sticky, moisten your hands slightly will prevent that it will stick to your hands). Place the plums on the dough in circles. Bake for about 30 minutes.

You can serve the plum cake as it is or you can sprinkle it with sugar or better cinnamon sugar to your taste. The quantity of sugar you need depends on how tart or swet the plums are.

You can make the dough with Quark (curd) too. But I tried it with greek yogurt, because I know that many ask for a possible subsitute for curd. And greek yogurt works fine.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Bundt Cake with Raisins and Almonds

A cake which you get in many variations in Germany. A traditional one is a bundt cake with raisins and almonds (Rosinengugelhupf). This one is not based on a yeast dough but on a dough using baking powder. Butter and eggs are making this one real rich.

Rosinengugelhupf (bundt cake with raisins)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

(for one bundt cake)

200g softened butter
250 g Sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla flavor (or 1 package vanilla sugar)
6 eggs (medium size)
150 g Sour Cream (Schmand)
350 g all purpose flour
1 heaped spoon baking powder
100 g raisins
rum (for soaking the raisins)
100 g almond flakes
Powder sugar (for dusting)

Let the raisins soak in rum (for at least an hour or overnight). Remove the raisins from the rum and set aside. If you don't like to cook with rum, you can soak the raisins in water.

Grease a bundt form and preheat oven to 180°C.

Beat butter and sugar on high speed until very well blended and getting fluffy. Add egg by egg and mix on medium speed each time for about 1 minute. Now add sour cream and vanilla flavor and mix until well blended. Mix flour and baking powder, sieve onto egg mixture and mix until blended. Do not overmix. At last fold in the raisins and almond flakes.

Fill dough into a suited bundt cake form (for 1.5 litre volume) and bake for abou an hour or until cake is done. Cake is done when a toothpick comes out clean. When cake gets too brown cover it with baking paper. Take out of oven, let cool about 10 minutes in form and then on a cooling rack until cold.

Before serving dust with powder sugar. Great with a cup of coffee, tea or hot chocolate. A real treat when served with some whipped cream.

Rosinengugelhupf (bundt cake with raisins)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009