Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Poached Pears "Williams Christ"

Poached Pear in Red Wine-Fruit Brandy Brew
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

This is the dessert for a cold winter day. The pears are poached in red wine and pear brandy (Williams Christ). Black tea and spices complement this dessert.

Poached Pears "Williams Christ"
(for 8 small pears)
8 smaller pears
200mL red wine
200mL orange juice
100mL pear brandy (Williams Christ brandy)
150g honey
100g sugar
black tea bags to make 500mL tea
1 star anise
3 cloves
10 black pepper corns
juice of 1 lemon
orange peel of 1 orange (cut into thin stripes)
1 teaspoon cornstarch

Peel the pears but leave a bit of peel around the stem. Cut out the blossom and cut off a little of the bottom so that the pear will stand later. Drizzle with lemon juice so that pears will not get brown.

In asuited pot combine red wine, orange juice, pear brandy, honey, sugar and spices and bring to a boil. Add tea bags and pears with the lemon juice and poach pears on low heat for 5 minutes. Then take out the tea bags. Poach pears for another 15 to 30 minutes until pears get soft. Do not let cook the pears! When pears are done take them off the wine brew.
Mix the cornstarch in a little cold water until dissolved. While stirring mix cornstarch into the brew and let cook for 5 to 10 minutes. This will thicken the brew. When brew is done add the orange peel and pears and warm them up again. Serve pears hot with some brew and garnish with orange peel.

Poached Pear in Red Wine-Fruit Brandy Brew
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Spritzgebäck (German Christmas Cookies)

Spritzgebaäck (German Piped Christmas Cookies)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

If you ask me for the very typical and most traditional christmas cookies for me, I would always answer Spritzgebäck. There is no Christmas without this typical piped cookies. My gandmother made, my mother makes them every year, my mother-in-law makes them. And I make them too based on the same very basic and very easy recipe. There is some controversy though on icing - yes or no. Although I don't like them covered with too much icing, a drizzling with whole milk chocolate do enhance the delicate almond flavor for me.

Even on the last days before christmas you can make them, because the ingredients are easy to get (if you don't have them at hand) and the recipe is easy to make. It never failed the effect of being typical for christmas. With Spritzgebäck christmas time is coming.

Mandelspritzgebäck (Almond piped christmas cookies)
(always not enough cookies)

375g softened butter
250g sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla sugar
1 dash salt
2 small egg yolks
a few drops of bitter almond flavor (bitter almond oil, you can omit this ingredient)
125g grounded blanched almonds
250g all purpose flour
250g cornstarch
whole milk couverture (chocolate)

Blanching almonds: pour hot water over almonds, let stay for a few minutes, pour off hot water and pour cold water over almonds. Now you can peel the almonds easily. Dry the almonds and ground them. Use fresh almonds, because their flavor is much more intense.

Preheat oven to 190°C. Line out baking trays with baking paper. Mix butter with salt, sugar and vanilla sugar until creamy. Add egg yolks and mix until foamy. Add almonds and a few drops oil of bitter almonds. Mix all purpose flour and cornstarch and add little by little to the dough. In the end the dough will get firmer. Fill in the dough into a cookie press with big star nozzle or better into a meat grinder with a big star nozzle. Press dough strings of about 2 to 3-inches. Form dough strings into rings, "S", horseshoes or any other shapes you like and place on baking tray. Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes. Cookies should still be light in color and not too brown. Take out of the oven and let cool on a cooling rack.
Melk whole milk couverture and drizzle over the cookies.

Note: the cookies crack easily when still hot. So let them cool for the first 5 to 10 minutes on the baking tray or move them carefully with the baking paper from the tray to the cooling rack.

Note: for this recipe you will need 2 egg yolks. What to do with the two remaining egg whites? Why don't you try Zimtsterne. This recipe requires 3 egg whites. Make some more Spritzgebäck to get even with egg yolks and egg whites.

Almond German Christmas Cookies (Mandelspritzgebäck)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

... and ...
Sunshinemom has made this recipe and wrote on a blog on Spritzgebäck. Thank you for making these cookies.

Friday, December 18, 2009


Cinnamon-Cognac Truffles
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

These Cinnamon-Cognac-Truffels (Zimt-Cognac-Trüffel) will melt in your mouth. And as fast as they are gone, so easiy they are to make. What a nice present for the Holidays. The cinammon in combination with cognac are making the main flavors. I'm making truffles during advent time, when the days are real short and the weather is cold. These truffles will brighten you day.

One point is important: use high quality ingredients, because there are just a few and they will make the truffles what they are.

Cinnamon-Cognac Truffels (Zimt-Cognac-Trüffel)
(depending on size about 30 or more)
150g softened butter
50g powder sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon powder
3 tablespoons Cognac
200g white chocolate
200g whole milk chocolate
Dutch Cocoa powder (unsweetened)

Mix butter, sugar and cinnamon powder with a hand held mixer until very creamy. Break white and whole milk chocolate into smaller pieces and let melt using the double-boiler method. Add cognac to butter mixture and mix until blended. Add the melted chocolate mixture and mix until blended.
Put mixture into the refrigerator and let rest for at least two hours. After truffle mixture is solid again take walnut size pieces and form into balls. Cover truffles with cocoa powder. Ready.

I keep them in the fridge in an airtight container (but you can keep them also at room temeprature). At least 30 minutes before you want to serve them take them out of the freezer so that they have room temperature again.

Happy Holidays

... and ...
Sunshinemom (Blog: Tongue Ticklers) made the recipe and blogged about it here. Thank you for making these cookies.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mini Christmas Muffins

Mini Christmas Muffins
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

The scent of christmas with cinnamon, cardamom and cloves combined with dried apricots, cranberries, currants and dried orange peelmake this mini muffins. Not as soft and moist as usual muffins are these treats great with a cup of coffee, tea or hot cacao on a cold winter day, for advent and during the holidays.

Mini Christmas Muffins
(depending on your mini muffin forms up to 40)
125g softened butter
100g sugar
2 eggs (medium size)
1 dash salt
200g all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
1 teaspoon grounded cardamom seeds
1 knife point grounded cloves
120g dried fruit (I use dried apricots, dried cranberries, currants and dired orange peel)

Note: I always use fresh grounded cardamom and cloves, there flavor is much more intense. Especially for cardamom you need to take care, fresh cardamom can be overhelming. Then use less than 1 teaspoon. You will need around 10-12 green cardamom pods. Open them and ground the seeds only in a mortar. Also use fresh cloves and ground them. They are much better than cloves powder. I used cinnamon very often, so the cinnamon powder isn't getting old.

Cute the dried fruit into small pieces. Set aside. Mix flour and baking powder. Set aside. Preheat oven to 200°C. Prepare your mini muffin forms. I use paper forms and bake the muffins on a baking tray. To assure that the paper forms keep their form and shape, I put three little forms into each other. After baking you can remove the outer ones easily again.

Mix the softened butter, sugar, eggs and salt until creamy and foamy. Add the spices and mix until blended. Add the flour mixture and mix until just blended. Add the dried fruit, but leave some pieces to top the mufins later. Fold into the dough.

Fill the little muffin forms with the dough and put one or a few dried fruit pieces on top (I often use the dried orange peel only for this). Bake muffins until done. Baking time depends on size of your forms. For very little ones you need about 10 minutes for bigger ones a longer. Take out of oven when done and let cool on a cooling rack.

Before serving let it snow and dust them generousely with powder sugar. Enjoy!

Mini Christmas Muffins
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

Monday, November 30, 2009

Cream of Scorzonera Soup

© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

Scorzonera (Schwarzwurzeln, salsify, Schorseneer) are a root vegetable, which were in past times sometimes called the "asparagus of the poor man". When you peel and wash them they have a similar look as asparagus. But they are sure different in taste. They have a delicate sweet touch.

They are easy to cook. I have used them for a very creamy soup or a soupy puree, whatever you would like to call it.

Schwarzwurzel-Cremesuppe (Cream of Scorzonera Soup)
(about 4 servings)

1000g Scorzonera
500mL vegetable broth
150ml white wine
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion
250g celery
8 slices bacon
4 tablespoons dry sherry
100 to 300mL whipping cream
salt and pepper to taste
Parsley to garnish

Peel and clean onion, celery and Scorzonera, cut into pieces. Heat butter in a suited pot and stew the vegetables for a few minutes on medium high heat, but do not let brown. Add broth and white wine and let cook for about 20 minutes. I always started with less broth than the given amount. You can add more broth later, if the soup is too thick.

After 20 minutes puree the vegetables (e.g. with a hand blender), add sherry and salt and pepper to taste. Now you can add also more broth if the soup is too thick. Add as much whipping cream as you like to get the conistency. As more you add as smoother the taste will get. Keep soup warm.

Fry the bacon slices until browned. Cut into smaller pieces.

Serve the soup with bacon and some parsley for garnish. Serve with a glass of a dry white wine and if you like with some white bread.

© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

When you prepare the Scorzonera I suggest to wear disposable gloves, because the Scorzonera will excrete gluey sap. First wash off all remaining earth from the roots, than peel the roots carefully. Cut roots into pieces for this recipe.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Christmas Fun Project: Ginger Bread Ravioli (Lebkuchen-Ravioli)

Christmas Bakery Fun Project (7/7) - the final shot
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

I found the recipe for Ginger Bread Ravioli (Lebkuchenravioli) a few years ago and thought that this would be the perfect recipe for some christmas fun. Actually it is a recipe for jam filled gingerbread cookies, but with a bit of fantasty you could turn it into an Italien look alike Pasta Dish. The gingerbread cookies are based on a dough for typical German Lebkuchen. You will need some special ingredients, which might be difficult to get where you live, but these are making these cookies so special. Before we start the fun, here the recipe and all you need for the fun.

Lebkuchen-Ravioli (Ginger Bread Ravioli)
(for about 20 raviolis)

...for the ravioli dough

350g honey
100g sugar
100g butter
1 egg (medium-size)
1 tablespoon dutch cocao powder (unsweetend)
2 teaspoons ginger bread seasoning (see note)
600g all purpose flour
5g salts of harthorn
2g potash
3 tablespoons milk

...for the dried fruit filling

dried fruit (e.g. prunes, cranberries, apricots, figs, dates)
Chop dried fruit and walnuts into small pieces and mix them together

...for the dried fruit filling

marzipan (marchpane, almond paste
Soak raisins in rum. Take two or three soaked raisins and wrap them in a little piece of marchpane

...for the jam filling

strawberry jam or any other jam you like
Use about 1/2 teaspoon for filling

...for the nougat filling

solid nougat, cut into small cubes
Form the cubes into little balls for the filling

...for the Italian Pasta Dish Idea

green food coloring
red food coloring
raspberry jam
coconut flakes
white chocolate


Ginger bread seasoning: In Germany you can get this seasoning during advent. I always use a commercial product. The one I use contains cinnamon, coriander, aniseed, allspice, cloves, star-anise, cardamon, ginger, and vanilla. The ginger bread seasoning might be difficult to get, but it is worthwhile to try it, because to get the right mixture of spices is difficult.
Potash and salts of hartshorn are the typical baking agent in christmas bakery. They work a little like baking powder or soda, but are very different though. They add a typical taste, create a different texture and they don't loos there baking characteristics during th elong resiting time. When you dissolve potash in milk a strong smell will occur, which is typical.
For the filling there are no amounts given. Use as much or less as you like.


Mix honey, butter and sugar in a pot and heat over low heat until sugar is dissolved completely. Remove from heat and let cool down slightly. In a bowl mix flour, cocoa, ginger bread spice mixture. Add honey mixture to flour and mix using the dough hook. Add egg and mix again. Dissolve salts of hartshorn in 2 tablespoons of milk in a small bowl. In a second small bowl dissolve potash in 1 tablespoon milk. Add first salts of hartshorn mixture to dough and mix well. Than add potash mixture and mix well. Wrap dough into cling film and set aside for at least 24 hours at room temperature.

On the next day: preheat oven 180°C. Line out baking tray with parchment paper. Dust the work space with some flour and knead the dough a few times. If the dough is too sticky add a little more of flour. Divide dough into smaller parts you can handle easily. Roll out the dough very thinly (about 2mm). Dust the dough with flour from time to time as you would do it with pasta dough to prevent it from stick to workspace. The dough should be elastic, but dry. Halve dough. On one part mark squares of about 5cm. On each square place some filling. Now cover it with the second half of the dough and press slightly with your fingers in between the fillings to mark the ravioli. Cut out the ravioli with a knife.

For each ravioli cookie: press the edges slightly together with your fingers. Seal the edges by pressing a fork into the edges. Place ravioli on baking tray and bake for about 12 minutes until ravioli a slightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool completely on cooling rack. Keep them in an airtight container. They will get better with time, but I guess they will not stay that long.

Why don't you try to present ginger bread ravioli like a pasta dish? Here is the idea (and take a look at the photos below). Colour small coconut flakes with some drops of green food coloring to represent chopped herbs. Color marzipan with red food coloring. Roll small pieces of red colored marzipan into little balls to represent cherry tomatoes (for the stems I have used real stems from cherry tomartoes). Scrap pieces from white chocolate to make "parmesan cheese". Put some raspberry jam as tomato sauce on a pasta plate. Sprinkle some green coconut flakes over sauce. Place some gingerbread raviolie on the plate. Sprinkle with some white chocolate. At last place the marzipan tomatoes around the ravioli. Ready to serve ginger bread ravioli.

...and now to the xmas fun project with photos

Christmas Bakery Fun Project (1/7) - start
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

On this photo you can see the dough rolled out, squares are marked and fillings placed on the dough. In front a nougat cube, behind marzipan ball, left to it strawberry jam and behind you can also see the dried fruit filling. If you click on the photo you will be re-directed to the photo on flickr, where the single fillings are marked.

Christmas Bakery Fun Project (2/7)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

Close up shot of ginger bread ravioli. You can see the the mark of the fork to seal the ravioli. Close the ravioli carefully and avoid air pockets.

Christmas Bakery Fun Project (4/7) - Classic Italian Pasta
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

Serving idea: you can see the marchepan (marzipan) tomato, the white chocolate to represent cheese and the colored coconut flakes.

Christmas Bakery Fun Project (5/7) - with a sauce made of jam
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

Close up shot of serving gingerbread ravioli as an Italian Pasta Dish.

Christmas Bakery Fun Project (6/7) - another fork
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

Close up shot of a gingerbread ravioli with marzipan filling, topped with some jam, white chocolate and some green coconut flakes. The photo at the beginning of this post is a close up shot of gingerbread ravioli with strawberry jam filling.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Here another fun shot. There is always the big question: will we have snow on christmas eve? With these Lebkuchen-Ravioli you can have snow any time you like.

Christmas Bakery Fun Project (3/7) - Let it snow!
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Pfeffernüsse (Peppery Ginger Bread Cookies)

...spicy christmas
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

Very traditional, very spicy christmas cookies. These gingerbread cookies have a wonderful flavour of pepper, ginger, and anise. They should be soft inside and crunchy outside. A lemon glaze complements these treats.

Pepper was a very expensive spice during the time these cookies were invented. And for christmas one have used this special ingredient. It was a sign of wealth being and it was a sign for a special feast. So Pfeffernüsse contain much freshly ground pepper. Don’t reduce the amount, because the peppery taste make the difference. Pfeffernüsse are not difficult to make, yet so tasty, and are a typical German advent and christmas cookie.

(for about 48 cookies)

80g butter
100g dark molasses (Zuckerrübensirup)
100g sugar
1/2 teaspoon ginger powder
1/2 teaspoon freshly grounded anise seed
A little less than 1/2 teaspoon freshly grounded black pepper
250g all purpose flour
1 knife point baking soda

... for the glaze:
80g powder sugar
1 tablespoon lime juice (maybe a bit less or more)

Mix flour and baking soda and set aside.

Bring butter, dark molasses, sugar, and spices in a pot to a single boil and remove from heat. Add flour at once and stir in quickly. Let dough cool down. Then wrap it into cling film and put into the fridge. Let it rest overnight.

Next day: The dough should be very firm. Halve it with a knife. Set one half aside for the moment and put it back in the fridge. Divide the halved dough into 8 pieces. Each of the 8 pieces divide into 3 little pieces (they should have almost the size of walnuts). Knead the little pieces of dough, so that they get a little waxier. Then roll them between your hands to form a little ball. Place them on a plate and put in the fridge. Do the same with the second half of the dough.

Note: the dough can get really hard. When you take it out of the fridge and it is too hard to form into balls, let it stay for a while at room temperature. The balls do not have to have the perfect form.

Let the dough balls rest in the fridge for one hour. Meanwhile preheat oven 180°C. Line out two baking trays with baking paper. Take the dough balls out of the fridge and put them on the baking tray. Bake the cookies in the lower third of the oven for 10 to 15 minutes (depending on how hard you like them). Cookies will flatten a bit and should be golden. They are still soft when you take them out of the oven. Let them cool completely on a cooling rack.

Glazing: Mix powdered sugar with as little lime juice as possible to form a glaze. The glaze should be pasty, so use as much lime juice you need to get this consistency. Store the Pfeffernüsse between layers of parchment paper in an airtight container. You can store them in a dry and not too warm place for about 4 weeks.

Note: if you bake the cookies for about 10 to 12 minutes they are more soft. As longer as you bake them as harder they will get. Do not bake them longer than 15 minutes. I like them harder and love to dip them into hot coffee or hot chocolate.

Pfeffernuesse (peppery gingerbread cookies)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

About the photos
Photos are worthwhile a thousand words. Sometimes photos show more than you can describe in the directions. The glaze for example is described as pasty. In the photos you can see that it has a certain dimension. It is very thick and doesn't flow as you may know it from other glazes. And take a look at the shape. They are really rounded, indicating that I have baked them a little longer. I like my Pfeffernüsse very crunchy. If you bake them as described in the directions they may be more flat after cooling down.

A year before, I have used a similar setting as in the first photo, but used a plain black background (see photo below). And although I like this shot, I thought the angle was to leveled and the background is missing some structure. The plain black is killing a bit dimension and also atmosphere. It seems a bit artificial.

A year later I used again a balck background and used an all black background. I replaced the white plate against a black one. But instead a plain black backround this one has more structure.

In the 2nd photo I was going for a more "conventional" setting using brown and green as the main colors.

© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Anise Cookies (Anisdukaten)

It's gettin' that time of the year again
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

Advent and christmas time are accompanied by the descent scent of spices like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves or ANISE. These buttery and brittle cookies have this wonderful flavor of anise. In these cookies anise seed as well as star anise is used.

Anisdukaten (anise cookies, anise ducats)
(for about 40 cookies)

1 tablespoon anise seed (finely grounded)
0.5 teaspoon star anise (finely grounded)
125 g butter (softened)
125 g sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla sugar
1 dash salt
5 egg yolks
250 g all purpose flour

6 tablespoons sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon star anise (finely grounded)

I used freshy grounded anise. For anise seed I use a mortar and pistil. For the star anise I use an electric mill. I sieve it through a fine meshed sieve to get finely grounded star anise.

Mix butter, finely grounded anise, sugar, vanilla sugar, and a dash of salt. Add one egg yolk and mix for about one minute. Add the secoind egg yolk and mix again. repeat until all egg yolks are used. Add flour and mix only until blended. Wrap dough into clinch film and put in the fridge for about one hour.

Line baking trays with parchment paper. Take dough out of the fridge and divide into about 40 pieces (or less if you like cookies larger). Roll pieces into small balls and place on the trays. Press slightly a nice looking star anise into each cookie so that it is flatten slightly too.

Let rest cookies on tray for about 30 minutes at a very cool place (e.g. fridge, cold room). Meanwhile preheat oven to 200°C

Bake anise cookies for about 10 to 12 minutes until golden. Take out of the oven and roll the still warm cookies in the prepared star anise sugar. Let cool completely on a cooling rack. You can store the cookies for about 2-3 weeks in an airtight container.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Lentil Stew with smoked sausages

Lentil Stew with smoked sausages
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

Lentil Stew with smoked sausages (Linseneintopf mit geräucherten Würstchen) is one of the comfort dishes which is served in many different way in Germany in autumn and winter, when days are getting colder and shorter. I'm always varying it a bit and add more of this and less of that. The recipe here is more of a blueprint.

Linseneintopf mit geräucherten Würstechen
(for about 6 servings)

2 onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery
the leaves from 4 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
300 g lentils (Pardina Lentils)
about 500 g canned tomatoes (cut into pieces or pureed)
about 700 ml beef broth
4 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
smoked sausages (the ones you like best)
a few tablespoons white wine vinegar (to taste)

Prepare the vegetables (put some carrot and celery pieces on the side for garnish). Wash lentils and let drip off in a sieve.

Heat olive oil in a suited pot. Add onions, garlic, carrot, thyme and bay leaves and cook until onions glasy (do not brown).

Now add lentils, celery, tomatoes and some of the broth. Bring to a boil and let cook on low to medium heat. Add as much broth as need to maintain a soupy consistency. After 20 minutes add the smoked sausage and cook until lentils are getting just soft (I like the lentils with a tiny bit of a bite). Add as much broth to get the consistency you like.

Add salt and ppper to taste. Add vinegar tablespoon by tablespoon until you get tartness you like. Lentil stew should have a tart taste. Garnish the soup with thyme leaves and some fresh carrot and celery pieces. If you like you can also add some fresh tomato pieces for garnish.

Serve stew hot with some rustic bread.

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

Monday, September 28, 2009

An autumnly bread spread

An autumnly bread spread
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

When you walk these days over the local market you will find all kinds of different mushrooms, which are now in season. Last time I have baught some chanterelles. At home I still had some more mushrooms. An easy way to enjoy these mushrooms is to use them in a mushroom-butter on a rustic bread with additional chanterelles on top.

Mushroom-Butter for a rustic bread
(servings and quantity are a guess)

about 400g Fresh mushrooms (e.g. chanterelles)
150 - 200g softened butter
1 onion
3 tablespoons Sherry
5 tablespoons parsley (chopped)
salt and pepper
rustic bread (e.g. rye-bread)

The quantities are a guess. Sometimes I use less or more from this or that. Try what you like best.

Chop about 100g of the fresh mushrooms and the onion finely. Sweat onions and mushrooms in about 1 tablespoon butter on medium high heat in a pan for a few minutes. Add sherry and cook until fluid is almost gone. Take from heat and let cool.

Add rest of butter and mix until blended. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cut the rest of the mushrooms into bite-sized pieces. Sear the mushrooms in butter over medium high heat. When mushrooms are as browned as you like them, add parsley and mix. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Spread the butter generousely on bread slices. Top with seared fungi and garnish with some parsley. Enjoy.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Hazelnut Braid

Hazelnut Braid (2/2)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

I love the flavor of hazelnut in cakes. And marchpane is intensifying the flavor of hazelnuts even more. Here is a cake which not only has a nice structure but has an intense hazelnut flavor. Not too sweet though.

Hazelnut Braid
(for one braid)

...for the filling:
100 g hazelnuts (grounded)
100 g marchpane*
1 egg
50 g sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla flavor
1 tablespoon rum (or milk, if you don't want to bake with rum)

...for the dough:
300 g all purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
160 g Curd
6 tablespoons milk
6 tablespoons oil
90 g sugar
2 teaspoon vanilla flavor
1 dash salt

...for the glaze:
4 tablespoons peach or apricot jam
2 tablespoons water

* Marchpane: in German "Marzipan" (Spain: mazapán, France: massepain, Italy: marzapane). Sometimes you find the name almond paste. It is a raw mixture for baking and not the end product.

Prepare the filling first. Roast the grounded hazelnuts over medium high heat slightly. Set aside. Mix the rest of the ingredients for the filling until homogenous. I'm using a fork for this step, because so you can easily mash the marchpane with the egg and other ingredients. Add the hazelunuts and mix. Set aside.

Put the curd into a sieve which you have lined out with some paper towels. This step will make the curd more dry. After 15 to 30 minutes the curd is in general dry enough for the dough.

Prepare the dough. Mix flour and baking powder and sieve into a bowl. Add the other ingredients for the dough. Mix for one minute on high speed with your mixer and dough hooks. Do not mix too long, because dough would get sticky.

Knead a few times with hands to form the dough. Then roll it out to a size of about 40 by 30 cm. Spread the filling evenly on the dough leaving about 1 cm free from each side. Form a roll fom the longest side. Half the roll lengthwise and fold it apart. With the sliced side pointing upward form a braid. Press the ends slightly so that they will not fall apart while baking.

Bake in a preheated oven at 170 C on a greased baking tray for 40 to 45 minutes. After 30 minutes you should watch the cake. If the cake is getting too brown covered it with some baking paper.

While baking prepare the glaze. Mix jam and water in a small pot and let it cook on medium high heat for 5 to 10 minutes to thicken it.

Take out the cake of the oven and while hot glaze it. Let it cool completely on a cooling rack.

Hazelnut Braid (1/2)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

About the photos
To show the structure better I sliced the cake a placed two slices beside the cake but leave most of the cake to show the braid structure. As reference for the filling I have used hazelnuts and hazelnuts leaves which are in season now. They shouldn't be too perfect to avoid a too staged impression. Composition wise the photos are based on a brown green contrast for an earthern impression. The use of the silver plate should emphasize the rustic look. In the first photo I have used a T/S lens which gave me the chance to use a top down angle but still have the focal plain like in a lower angled version.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

German Classic: Marbled Cake

Marbled Cake
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

Maybe marbled cake is "The" classic German Cake. At least for me. I can not think of any birthday, anniversary or other family celebration without marbled cake made in a bundt cake form. And for all grown up in the 60s and 70s it is connected to one cook book "Backen macht Freude", the Dr. Oetker baking book, first published in 1960 and still available. The recipes in this book are foolproofed and I still rely on it when it comes to baking, although I have my own variations. The original front cover was Marbled Cake and browsing through the book always brings up childhood memories.

Marbled Cake
(for one bundt cake form)

300 g butter (softened)
285 g sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla flavor
1 tablespoon rum
1 dash salt
5 eggs

375 g all purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons milk

20 g Dutch Cocoa Powder
20 g sugar
3 tablespoons milk

Grease a suited bundt cake form. Preheat oven to 180°C.

Mix Dutch Cocoa powder, 20 sugar and 3 tablespoons milk until sugar and cocoa powder are dissilved. The mixture should be homogenous.

In a large bowl mix butter to make it creamy. Add sugar and a dash salt and mix on hight speed until sugar is well blended. Now add one egg after the other. After adding one egg mix for about one minute on medium to high speed. Which each egg the batter will get softer and more creamy. Aater you have added the fifth egg, add rum and vanilla flavor and mix again.

Mix flour and baking powder. Sieve half of flour mixture onto butter batter and mix until blended. Don't overmix. Add 2 tablespoons milk and mix. Sieve rest of flour mixture onto batter and mix again.

Fill 2/3 of batter into bundt cake form.

To the rest of the batter add dutch cocoa powder mixture and mix until blended. Fill cocoa batter onto the other batter. By using a fork and a spiral move through the batter swirl the dark bater into the light batter to get the typical marbled cake structure.

Bake in the oven for 50 to 60 minutes or until cake is done. Cake is done when a tooth pick comes out clean. When the cake gets to dark on top you can cover it with baking paper.

When cake is done, let cool for about 10 minutes in baking form. Then let cool completely on cooling rack. Before serving dust the cake with powder sugar generousely.

Marbled Cake
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

Backen macht Freude
German Baking Today

This book was published first in 1960 by Dr. Oetker and has been used in my family until then. And I guess this is the case in most German families. Meanwhile you can get it in English too called "German Baking Today". The recipes in the newer editions are still the same. For those interested in food photography a comparision of the original edition of 1960 and the latest one is highly inetersting. The photographic sytyle has changed completely (obviousely). I still can remeber most of the colored photographs from the original edition. To save space two or more different recipes were shown in one photograph.

Variation of form and size
You can try this cake in different baking forms, like a loaf pan form form. Or make it as little single cakes in a muffin pan.

Marble Cake
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

Marbled Mini Cakes (2)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Easy Lunch: Bean Salad

Easy Lunch: bean salad
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

The last days I was way too lazy for cooking. Happenstance, my wife made this great bean salad which is done in no time and will get better over the day as longer the flavors have time to blend. Serve it with some roasted bread and a glass of white wine and you will have a wonderful easy and quick lunch on a too hot day to cook.

Bean Salad
(serves one or more)

1 can (285 g) cooked kidny beans
1 can (285 g) cooked large white beans
1 spring onion
1 tablespoon parsley (chopped)
1.5 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
0.5 teaspoon sugar
pinch cayenne pepper
pinch black pepper

© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

Slice the spring onion (should be about 1 to 2 tablespoons of finely sliced spring onions) and blanch them for a few seconds. Then drench them in cold water.

Drench the beans and put in a suited bowl. Add chopped parsley, sliced spring onions and mix.

Make a vinaigrette out of the other ingredients. Add salt to taste. The vinaigrette will be sour in taste. This will disappear later.

Pour vinaigrette over beans. Mix gently and let stand for at least one hour so that flavors can blend. Add salt and black pepper (or cayenne pepper) to taste.

Serve with some roasted toast or white bread and a glass of white wine. Enjoy.

Variation of easy lunch
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

About the two photographs
The two photographs are almost the same. The difference between them are just two details. In the 2nd photo I have moved the parsley leaf a bit more to the back. Now it is on the toast bread instead of in front of it. And I have added some bread crumbs in front of the plate. I did this for two reasons: I feel that the toast bread in the 1st photo was just like a prop and not be part of the dish. By showing a bit more of the front side of the bread (which was covered by the parsley leaf) and by adding the crumbs I wanted to bring it to the attention of the viewer. The crumbs add a bit of casuality (which I like), the image is not that clean as the 1st one is.
In both photographs I have used a tilt-shift lens, mainly to reduce DoF field more without using a too low aperture. The other reasons was that I wanted a small turn of the focal plain. It is not straight to the frame as it would be with other lenses. I slightly turn it around.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Tradition at its best

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

I have been asked to post the recipe for "Dresdner Eierschecke" several times. And I have to apologize that I needed so long to write it down. The name "Eierschecke" for this cake refers to the top layer which is an egg custard. This cake is a speciality in the German regions Saxony and Thuringa. Dresden is the capital city of Saxony and famous for the historic parts of the city with the "Dresdner Zwinger", Semperoper or the Frauenkirche. I found the recipe for Dresdner Eierschecke a while ago in a monthly journal in 2007 and it was a success from the start. It needs some time to prepare it, but it is worthwhile the effort. I have made some slight changes, so this recipe will differ from other recipes for Dresdner Eierschecke, but it was done in the sense of it.

Dresdner Eierschecke
(for one baking tray)

...for the dough:
350 g all purpose flour
20 g baker's yeast (I use original baker's yeast)
3 tablespoons sugar
125 ml milk (lukewarm)
50 g butter (softened)
1 egg
a dash of salt

...for the curd filling:
750 g curd (Quark)
130 g sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla flavor
1 package instant pudding powder (flavor: vanilla)

...for the egg custard layer:
1 package instant pudding powder (flavor: cream)
375 mL milk
5 eggs (divided into yolks and whites)
150 g sugar
150 g butter
a dash of salt

flaked almonds
powder sugar

For this recipe you need instant pudding powder, which are well known in Germany. I package is meant for 500 mL pudding. The instant pudding powder contains flavor and other ingredients, but no sugar. So you should try to get a pudding powder which is suited for 500 mL of milk.
I'm using vanilla flavor instead of vanilla sugar. It is more intense in flavor. This is for sure a variation for the traditional recipe.

Put flour into a large bowl. In the center form a dell. In this dell crumble the yeast and add 1 tablespoon of sugar and some of the lukewarm milk. Mix gently with a fork to dissolve the yeast. Use just a bit of the yeast. This pre-dough mixture should be fluid. Let stand in a warm place for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes add the other ingredients for the dough and knead some time to from a smooth dough. I suggest to knead at least for 5 to 10 minutes. If the dough is too moist add some more flour. Let stand this dough in a warm place for about 30 minutes. The dough should double in volume.

Meanwhile prepare the egg custard layer and the Quark filling.

For the Quark filling mix eggs, sugar and vanilla flavor until foamy. Add Quark and pudding powder and fold in. Set aside.

For the egg custard layer whisk the egg whites with a dash of salt until stiff. Mix the pudding powder with some of the milk until well blended. Bring the rest of the milk and sugar to a boil. Mix in the pudding powder mixture and while constantly stirring bring to a boil again. Let cool slightly. Then mix in the butter, then the egg yolks. Fold in the egg whites and set aside.

Preaheat oven to 200°C. Grease baking tray.

Knead dough again and roll out the dough on the baking tray. Form a rim and prick the dough several times with a fork.

Disperse the Quark filling on dough to form the first layer. Then very carefully disperse the egg custard on top of the Quark layer to form the next layer. Sprinkle with almond flakes.

Let bake in the oven for about 40 minutes. If the top is getting to brown cover with some baking paper. When cake is done take out of the oven and let cool on a baking tray.

Before serving cut into pieces and dust generously with powder sugar. Enjoy.

Dresdner Eierschecke (3/4)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dog Days of Summer

Lemon-Mint Ice Tea
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

It happens not too often this year here in Germany where I live, but we were having some damn hot days. Days, when you don't even can think of cooking without sweating, although the oven might be cooler than temepratures outside. These dog days of summer are meant for having a long Siesta in the shadows with something cold: ice tea.

My recipe for Lemon-Mint Ice tea is just one variation. It is more like a blueprint for me, sometimes I make it sweeter, other times I use more lemon juice or lime juice. Sometimes I omit the mint leaves, other times it is more like mint ice tea. Just play around with the ingredients. The only thing I would suggest, use a tea of good quality. I always use loose tea leaves, never tea bags. If you drink a lot of tea like I do you will come sooner or later to tea leaves.

Lemon-Mint Ice Tea
(hope no one else is requesting a glass)

750 mL ice cold water
1.5 Tablespoons lemon juice
some fresh mint leaves

250 mL boiling water
Tea Leaves to make 1 litre black tea
1.5 Tablespoons sugar

Combine the first three ingredients and set aside.

In a suited pot pour boiling hot water over the tea leaves and let brew for two minutes. Then pour the black tea through a sieve directly into the ice cold water mixture.

Serve the ice tea with some extra wedges of lemon or lime. If you like you can garnish the ice tea with some additional mint leaves. If you like it ice cold add some ice cubes to your tea.

Use your favorite black tea for this recipe. I prefer a strong black tea variety. But if you like you can use tea bags too. The amount of mint leaves needed depends on the mint variety and how strong the flavor is. I would suggest to start with not too many. Dog days of summer will last mid of August. So there is some time left to get the right mixture.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The "true" color - about white balance and color mood

It all seems so easy in these digital times of photography. Hit the release button and there you go with a fantastic food shot. Load it up to your computer and almost in no time you can take a look at the results.
...but sometimes taking a look at the results ends up with an unpleasant surprise. What looked great through the view finder or on the little camera screen, now has a not appealing touch into yellow, blue or green. Or you get responses from others telling you, that your photos have a yellow, green or blue color cast. Where in hell did these pretty colors turn into something else?
The answer is very easy: The colors that we human beings see are or can be different from the colors cameras or computer monitors "see, produce or display". The trick is, that we learned to see colors right, even if they are different in the "real" (physical) world. Yes, that can be true. Make a very simple experiment. Take a simple white plate and photograph it with you camera outside on a bright day around noon and then in the house under a simple light bulb. Don't change the camera settings. Load the photos to you computer and take a look at them. The one outside should be white (with default settings of your cameras turned on). But the one taken inside will have a yellow cast. The plate isn't white anymore but more or less yellow. You eye has seen a white plate all the time, because you have learned that the plate is white. Even under physical conditions, where the plate isn't reflecting light, so that it will appear white, we think it is white. This is great for us, because we don't get confused by color changes due to different lighting situations*, but for photography it means to learn the basics about color balance - mainly White Balance. We have to adjust our camera to see things right.

1st statement: Colors in the "real" (physical) world can be different from what we think. Cameras can only display the colors of the "real" world.

What does this mean for food photography? We have to adapt our camera in some way to overcome this physical problem. We have to make our camera ready to see the colors as we want to have them. The keyword here is White Balance. I do not go into the technical background on the meaning of color temperature. It isn't necessary for what we have to do. Important is, we have to change the camera settings in a way, that the camera produces "true" colorsm, so that white is white, blue is blue...

2nd statement: if you never have read any manuals READ the part of your camera's manual on WHITE BALANCE. Do it! If you don't know how to use the white balance feature of your camera right, the colors coming out will always be hit or miss without any control. So, read your manual.

Every camera has some pre-settings for white balance based on general assumptions. These pre-settings often come very close to "reality" and produce good results, which can be improved by some easy postprocessing steps later on. You will find settings for "cloudy day", "sunny day", "in shadow", "tungsten lamp" and others symolized by little pictograms. And you will find a "manual white balance". Try the pre-settings under different conditions to get familiar with them. Use some simple objects for this training: a white plate with some fruit on it for example. Take shots in your usual photography spot. Compare the results.

Now read your manual on "manual white balance adjustment". This is the fine tuning of your camera. Believe me, once you know how to use the manual white balance, you will never use the pre-settings. The idea behind the manual white balance is, that you adjust your camera depending on the momentary light situation by using a so called "gray card". And if you don't have a photographic gray card, you can use a sheet of white paper instead, which oftens gives you good results too. During manual white balance setting steps you "photograph" the gray card (white paper) and the camera is adjusted to this gray/white. Now the white balance is adjusted and colors should be as "true" as possible. At first this might take some time, but after a few times, you will be very fast doing it as a routine step in photo shooting.

Why a gray card? Everything in photographic lighting is based on measurements resulting from reflection of ligth from a defined (photographic) gray card, which reflects defined amount of light. It is a technical agreement on how to measure light, lighting, reflections in photography. You can get these gray cards in every photoshop for reasonable prices.

Now your camera should produce photos with "true colors". But when you take a look at your photos on the computer monitor, they still don't what you want them to be?

3rd statement: you also need to calibrate your computer monitor to display "true" colors. Yes, also the monitor might not display the colors correctly. Most monitors are calibrated during manufacturing, but during the lifetime of a monitor this calibration might get lost due to technical limitations.

I will not go into detail here on monitor calibration and how to do it. I have written about it in the Food Photography Club of Flickr in the thread "Tips, Tricks & Opinions: Monitor Calibration". There you will find more information about it.

If you remember, in my title I have mentioned "color mood". Why? Because sometimes true colors are not what we want to have for compositional reasons. Maybe you want a warmer (more yellow, reddish) color mood to get the impression of a warm day or for a more cozy feeling. Or you would like to have slight blue cast for the idea of a cool morning scenery. Or you just want more popping colors, e.g. an aggressive red, for emphasizing a certain idea. For all these reasons and photographic ideas you may want to change the color mood a bit from neutral (white balance) to a different color mood (warm, cool). Also this can be done with many DSLR (digital single lens reflex) cameras. After you have adjusted manually the white balance, you can manipulate it towards more red, yellow, blue, green... Or you can do it during post processing your images by changing the color balance manually.

My personal opinion
There is nothing more annoying than a wrong white balance in food photography. Green looking potatoes are not very appealing to me. Or who wants to look at a blueish vanilla ice cream? Did a greenish looking steak makes you salivating? White Balance control is an absolute must in food photography, because we are connecting certain colors with different flavors and taste. There is a correlation for me between color and if a food is appealing to me or not. And for me there is nothing worse than to ruin a food photo by mismatching the color balance (which can not be post process later). I always check white balance before and while shooting. Especially, if you are using natural light, color balance can change from one moment to the other. So, if you like just one take home message from me, my message for today is: Adjust and control white balance for food shootings very carefully. And better check it twice than to miss it.

* Funny thought. After you have read my post on color and white balance, try to imagine how dificult it would be to describe the color of a simple thing like a plate. It could be something like this: "I have bought yesterday a plate, which has a velvet soothing white on a bright day, not too cloudy, around noon. This changes to a wonderful yellow on our dining table with our new light bulbs at a color temeparture of 2700 Kelvin. But if I would have known, that it is aweful blueish on early sunday mornings around 8am, I would never have bought it"

If you are interested in details:
On Color Temperature
On Gray Card
On Color Balance
On Understanding White Balance

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Potato Tapas

Potato Tappas (1/2)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

This is a very easy to make snack with potatoes. The spiced potatoes will be baked in the oven. You can serve them with salt only or with a dip or sauce you like.

Potato Tappas
(should serve 4)

1000 g potatoes (waxy, firm variety)
3 sprigs thyme
3 sprigs rosemary
3 sprigs oregano
1 tablespoon paprika powder
1/2 to 1 teaspoon chilli pepper powder
5 tablespoons olive oil
Maybe some additional oil

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

Wash and clean potatoes very carefully. Then cut them into wedges.

Remove leaves from thyme and rosemary sprigs. Chop thyme leaves, rosemary leaves and oregano sprigs as fine as you like them. In a large bowl combine the herbs, and other ingredients to make a marinade. Add some salt.

Add potatoes and mix well so that th epotatoes are covered from all sides with the marinade.

Arrange potato in a single layer on the baking tray. Drizzle remaining marinade over the potatoes. Bake potatoes for 30 to 35 minutes until they are golden brown. If the potatoes getting too dry during baking you can drizzle some olive oil over them.

Remove from oven, add salt to taste and serve hot. Serve them with dip or sauce.

A very easy to make dip: grind one garlic clove with a bit of salt and mix it into 100 g jogurt. Add some lemon juice to the jogurt and add salt to your taste.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Find your Light

I am sometimes asked, how I do light my photos, if there is a general setting for my lighting, which light source I use and so on. This question isn't that easy to answer, because beside the technical side, lighting is a very personal way in composing images. Especially in food photography lighting is essential and you have to find your own light.

For the technical stuff and background information I would suggest the reading of:
Lou Manna: Digital Food Photography. Beside covering the various aspects of food photography in detail (e.g. composition with great examples), the book is also covering the topic of lighting in food photography.
Fil Hunter, Steven Biver, Paul Fuqua: Light - Science & Magic. This introduction to photographic lighting is covering all the aspects of lighting from scientific background to application. It is a great textbook.

My Lighting Equipment:
Natural Light from windows. I use it whenever I can, because I like the differences it is producing, although the pace at it will change can be hard sometimes.
Artificial Light Bulbs (5000 K), stands and equipment. When there isn't enough light or when I want to reproduce a very defined lighting, I am using artifical steady light bulbs. The light bulbs I'm using do not get hot, they still get a little warm though, but nothing you would have to worry about in food photography.

Useful Supplies:
I have various white foam boards of different sizes for fill light. The white styrofoam has the advantage, that the surface is irregular, so that the reflected light is softened a bit.
Silver and golden foil for stronger and harder fill lights. I fix these foils often on the foam boards. The golden foil will produce a more yellow (warmer) fill light. I use it seldom in food photography. The silver foil will produce a stronger fill light than the white foam board. You can bend the foil to produce fill light covering different directions onto the object, so that you can get an almost shadow less object.
Black card boards and papers to shade areas or to "direct" light. By excluding light from certain areas you can create a kind of light beam situation.
Small mirrors. I have several of them for effect light and for a strong fill light in certain areas.
Translucent papers will help you to soften (a too hard) light source. I have them in different sizes and can mount them on litle sticks to just shade certain areas. This is useful for example, when you want to reduce highlights which are too strong.
Sheer Curtain. I'm often using a pieces of sheer curtain to smooth (soften) light. This will soften also hard shadows. Especially useful when using natural light from a window.

Lighting setting:
There is no standard recipe for that, although I do prefer a back light or side light. I seldom use a front lighting. Beside a main light source (main light direction) I have often a fill light from opposite direction of main light source to control shadows. Angle of light and strength of light are depending on what I want to get in my photo, there is no general way to photograph food.

Find your own Light:
Lighting is essential part of the composition. Try to envisage the photo prior you do it. Think of the lighting before taking the photo. Should it be bright or more mysteriously dark? Should it reflect a direct natural light or a more soft still life light? Should it create certain effects? You can't think of lighting without taking the food into account. How do you want the food to appear in the photo? Are there stronger contrasts in the food you have to take care of (e.g. bright and dark parts)? Dark food is "eating" light and in combination with bright food you may have to use a strong main light and shade the brighter parts or you have to use a strong fill light for the darker parts to balance the lighting in these different areas. And because lighting is central part of the composition it is a very personal thing. You have to find your own way, which is a process. The (technical) basics are described in the books mentioned above.

How to learn lighting:
Take a look at many food photographs and analyze them. Find out how they might have been done in lighting. Where is the main light source? What is about shadows? Lighting angle (high or leveled). Is it a soft lighting without hard shadows or is it more structural light creating defined shadows? What is the mood of lighting? Is it bright and sunny, mysterious, dark, cozy, warm, cold, stylish, fancy? How is the lighting for different types of food?
And if you like a certain kind of lighting, try to re-create it. Try to find out how it was done and try to realize it in one of your own photos. In most cases you will end up with something completely different, but in this process you will learn much about lighting.
Try to "see light". This can be done always. Try to analyze the light surrounding you. What is the difference between light in the morning or afternoon; on a sunny or cloudy day. Do it where you like to take your photos and you will learn how to use the light more effectively in the area where you take your photos. Is there a time of day, when light is "best" for you?
And learn from and with others. Talk and discuss about food photography, composition and lighting. Let other critize your photos. You can learn much more from your mistakes than you might expect. If someone doesn't tells you, that the lighting in your photo doesn't work, how will you ever find out? Everyone likes to get compliments on their photos, but the value of a honestly ment review is much more. It gives you something to work on and to improve your skills. A place for such a discussion on the internet is the "Food Photography Club", where members and also non-members can discuss about foo photography in detail. I and others have created this group on Flickr a while ago just for the purpose to learn from each other and to have an in-depth discussion on food photography.

Interested in further posts? I will post some more about food photography in the future (follow the label photography in my blog). If you are interested in a post about Hard light, Soft light you should read the post about it in Alessandro's blog Food-o-grafia

If ou like this post you may also like "Let there be Light!"

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

It's nothin' but a Hotdog

It's nothin' but a Hotdog
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

Maybe Hotdogs are the "typical" American Recipe for Non-Americans. Not that there aren't any fried sausages in a bun or with bread recipes in Europe. But Hotdogs seem to be THE signature recipe for fried sausages fast food.

I sometimes make Hamburger, but I haven't made Hotdogs for ages. To make Hotdogs is by far no fast food with all the preparing of cucumbers or fried onions you have to do in advance. Even with a store bought hotdog bun it takes some time, but I have to admit that it is worthwhile the effort. So, here my version of a Hotdog.

(should be made 4 hotdogs)

1 small salad cucumber (you need about 200 - 250 g)
3 tablespoons vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
cayenne pepper and salt to taste

1 tomato
salt and pepper to taste

4 small onions
2 tablespoons butter

4 hotdog buns
4 hotdog sausages (I used Frankfurter Sausages)

Ketchup (or tomato sauce for hotdogs)
Mustard (as hot as you like it)

Peel onions and slice very thinly. Heat butter in a pan over medium high heat and then add onions slices. Let the onions cook on low to medium high heat to brown them. This will take about 10 minutes. You should brown the onions slowly. So they get some sweet notes. When onions are browned to your liking dry them on some paper towel and set aside.

Wash the cucumber and slice them. In a bowl combine vinegar and sugar, add salt and cayenne pepper to your taste and add the cucumbers. Let stand for about 30 minutes.

From the tomato just use the flesh. Cut it into cubes and add some salt and pepper. Set aside.

I make my hotdogs in a pan with some oil. So I pan-fry my sausages until they are browned from the outside on medium high heat. To prevent sausages from bursting I prick them with a toothpick several times from all sides before frying.

Prepare the hotdog buns according to package directions. Slice the buns lenghtwise but don't cut through.

Making the hotdogs:
Pat dry the cucumber slices and make a frist layer with them. Add tomato cubes. Put the sausage on this and add ketchup and/or mustard to your liking. Add fried onions and then close the hotdog. Serve right away.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Peach Jam

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

Last week I could get some real good peaches, fruity and full of flavor. Isn't there anything better than to make jam out of them? Because these peaches were very ripe and full of flavor, I choose a very simple jam, just peaches and sugar. To support the fruity notes I added some lemon juice (which also supports the gelling process). Again I'm using a commercial gelling sugar which combines all necessary things for the jam. I used a 1:1 ratio gelling sugar for a real sweet jam. Beside for breakfast, this jam is great for any other sweet stuff, like cakes.

Peach Jam

1000 g peaches (weigth after you have pitted them)
1000 g 1:1 gelling sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Note on Gelling Sugar: I'm using a commercial gelling sugar which contains the neccessary acidifier, pectin, gelling ingredients. It is foolproof. And I'm just too lazy to do this completely from scratch.

Cut pitted peaches into pieces. In a large pot puree half of the peaches, then add rest of peaches, sugar and lemon juice. Let stand for 1 hour and stir from time to time.

Meanwhile sterilze your jars. I fill them onece or twice with boiling water and pour out the boiling water immediately before I fill in the jam. This would 1500 mL of jam. So have enough jars at hand and prepared.

Bring the peach mixture to a boil stirring all the time. Let cook for 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Fill into prepared twist off preserving jars and close jars. Let stand for 1 minute and then turn up side down. Let stand for 10 minutes and turn over again. Let cool completely.

Peach jam (1/4)
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Comfort Food: quick and easy

Prawns and scrambled eggs
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

Prawns with scambled eggs on buttered bread is one of the typical dishes in northern region of Germany. Especially in harbours where you can get fresh shelled and cooked prawns you will find this in many variations. Mine is just another - very easy - variation. I like prawns with scrambled eggs on a typical German "Schwarzbrot" (coarse rye bread) without butter on the bread. When I'm not in the mood for cooking I get some prawns from my favorite fishmonger and within a few minutes comfort food is ready to serve.

Scambled eggs and prawns
(just for me)

about 100 g prawns
3 eggs
2 tablespoons milk
chives (chopped)
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon butter
2 -3 slices coarse rye bread

Bring the prawns to room temperature. I often use pre-cooked shelled prawns. So they don't have to be cooked. I would suggest to use these. If you like you can add them in the end to the scrambled eggs in the pan to heat them up.

Mix eggs with milk until combined. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Heat butter in pan over medium high heat. When hot add egg mixture and let cook until the eggs are set. Then turn the mixture once and add the chopped chives (as much as you like). Let cook until the eggs are done. The eggs should still be moisture and fluffy.

Put scambled egg on a (if you like - buttered) slice of bread, top with prawns and garnish with some chopped chives. Serve with a glass of beer or two.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Taste of childhood: peaches

The variety of peaches or any other fruit you can get on local markets seems to get bigger and bigger. Not only yellow and white fleshed peaches, but also all different shapes like what is called here in Germany "vineyard peaches":

Vineyard Peaches
© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

This more flat shaped peaches have a thicker peel. I haven't seen them the last years, but now they seem to be almost anywhere. While I was walking over the market last week, I saw a more orange to yellow colored peach variety with a very intense flavor. It reminded me at once to the flavor of peaches known in my childhood. Very sweet, very fruity. I have bought some and immediately after coming home I have to test them. And the flavor was just as I remember it from my childhood. Even the little bitterness of the peel was there. I love this taste and I hope that these peaches will become so popular as the vineyard peaches are nore.

© All rights reserved, Thorsten Kraska, 2009

Soon after these photos were made, I made peach jam out of these wonderful peaches.