Lebkuchen, or German spice cookies for Christmas, are so popular that they're sold from October to March. I first encountered them in Nuremberg in late January 2006, on one of the coldest days I've ever experienced. They're not my usual cookie - they're not that sweet, and chocolate doesn't need to be involved - but when I found the recipe in my America's Test Kitchen International Recipes book I had to make them. They were a little intimidating - I've never baked with nuts before, and these had to be toasted as well as ground. Fortunately, I already had all the spices I needed, and they came out perfectly. I took the last few home for my dad to try, and they were gone before lunchtime.
After the Roshky and Lebkuchen, I was looking for a Christmas cookie from a country outside of Europe. I found a fruity Mexican concoction, but it looked like a lot of work, and I was busy and sick. Then I hit upon a recipe for Pavlovas, named for a ballerina many years ago. No one's sure whether they come from Australia or New Zealand, but everyone agrees that they're delicious. You make a cake of meringue, then top it with freshly whipped cream and fruit (I used blackberries). I don't have pictures of the final product because I made individual ones for my coworkers (yes, I did whip cream in my office's kitchen) and cameras are verboten, but they were delicious. A little sticky, but the possibly overwhelming sweetness was balanced out by the cool whipped cream and tart blackberries.
6 oz unblanched hazelnuts
6 oz unblanched almonds (recipe calls for whole, I used sliced)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground (preferably freshly grated) nutmeg
grated zest from 3 oranges
grated zest from 2 lemons
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tbsp Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
Toast the nuts by placing them on a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet (you may need 2) and baking in a 350-degree oven, shaking frequently, until fragrant and lightly browned, about 5-10 minutes. Watch them carefully - they go from toasted to burned pretty fast! Leave the oven at 350. Let the nuts cool for a few minutes.
Use a food processor to grind the nuts with the granulated sugar and spices for 30-60 seconds, scraping down the sides, until they form a fine meal. Add the zests and give it another 15 seconds. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, then add the eggs and vanilla and mix until combined. Add the flour mixture and mix until incorporated. Add the nut mixture and do the same.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop 10 2-tbsp-sized mounds of dough onto each sheet (you'll have enough for one more sheet). Bake 13-18 minutes, or until the edges are firm and the tops are puffed with tiny cracks, switching positions halfway through the baking time. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for about 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Re-line one of the baking sheets and bake the rest of the dough.
You can glaze the cookies once they're cool with 1 3/4 cup powdered sugar mixed with 1/4 cup milk, or with 10 oz melted semi-sweet chocolate.
6 egg whites at room temperature
pinch of salt
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp vinegar (I used blackberry)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Whipped cream and fresh fruit for topping
Preheat the oven to 300. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Beat the egg whites with the salt for about a minute, until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar while still beating, and beat until the egg whites form stiff peaks. Sprinkle the cornstarch over the egg whites, then gently fold it in along with the vinegar and vanilla. Scoop the meringue into a circular pile on the parchment paper and make a slight depression in the middle. Place in the oven, turn the heat down to 250, and bake for an hour and 15 minutes. Let cool in the oven - DO NOT open the door until the meringue is cool. Top with whipped cream and fruit; slice and serve. I made individual pavlovas and baked them for about 50 minutes. Incidentally, I also totally forgot to take the second sheet out of the oven. I've been in Philadelphia for days and they've been in there since Monday. Whoops.