In the past week, I have baked five different batches of cookies, two pies, and one panforte. I am going through bags of sugar like it's going out of style. I buy candied orange peel every time I see it in the store, because I can't seem to keep it in stock in my pantry. And not a day goes by without some sort of nut toasting in a pan. Christmas in Germany (or the Advent time leading up to Christmas, I should specify) is serious business.
But, oh, it's so lovely. I can sit in my kitchen working on yet another spice cookie thing and hear the four-person brass band playing Christmas music at the Weihnachtsmarkt across the street. We lit our first Advent candle last night and let it burn in its pine wreath almost down to the nub. I have stockpiled a tower of tins for cookie-sharing and gift-giving. The best part is that it's all just so cozy at the same time as it's busy and productive, which is a lovely feeling. I'd dare say it's the nicest thing about this time of year.
I have also been doing a lot of cooking, but being up to my eyeballs and elbows in molten hot honey or a panful of nuts just this side of toasted at the same time has made documenting my dinner properly a little difficult. So! I'm going to do a little recipe round-up today instead.
I finally got around to trying Judy Rodger's panade with Swiss chard and Gruyère, which is so toasty and silky and delicious that it is very difficult to stop eating. What is it about stale bread and hot liquid? It's amazing to me that something so rough and scratchy around the edges, something as mundane as old bread and hot broth, can be transformed into something so supple and elegant. There's also the alchemy between long-stewed onions, teetering just on the edge of being too sweet, and nutty Gruyère cheese, which undergoes some sort of Cinderella-pumpkin thing in the hot oven. All put together, it's wondrous stuff. I find myself wanting to hide old bits of bread in the bread box so that we have a reason to make this more often.
Speaking of bread, I made some of my own! Inspired by none other than the 100th issue of Goop. This seeded whole-wheat loaf, from Tartine's new bread book, was featured in the newsletter, along with instructions from the owner and resident bread baker at Tartine for making natural leaven for bread simply by using water and flour and the natural yeasts in the air, instead of commercial yeast. For those of us who can't dedicate three days to producing natural leaven, you're given the alternative to make a pre-ferment poolish, which is what I gratefully did, and a weekend later, I had two glorious loaves of whole-wheat bread, full of flavor and delicious seeds and a chewy, holey crumb.
Except, you know what? I live in Germany now, or the Land of Bread as it's alternatively known (well, not really, but it should be), and making my own bread doesn't hold the same allure it once did. Also, these loaves were a lot more work than Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread. So, my verdict: for those of you living anywhere but in Germany, make this bread! It's so satisfying to watch bakery-style loaves emerge from your oven. And you'll never get tired of the chemical wondershow that is one measly gram of yeast turning a bunch of flour and water into bread. For those of us in Good Bread Land, eh, get thee to a bakery.
The other day, on the (fruitless) hunt for fresh cranberries at an organic grocery store in the south of Berlin, I came across a bin of lovely torpedo shallots from France. Isn't torpedo a good word? Torpedo, torpedo. The shallots are good, too. They have such good heft, such a nice shape. I like to just let slip around in my hands or skitter them around on the counter in an impromptu game of shuttlecock. When it came time to cook them, I took Molly's, or should I say Brandon's, lead, and roasted them with vinegar until the entire apartment smelled like a vinegar factory - and I mean that, quite literally, in the best possible way - and the shallots themselves had collapsed into the sweetest, slipperiest, most fragrant and wonderful version of themselves. I wish I had a photo for you, but they were gone so fast I could barely blink. I also had the distinct feeling that I could have made twice the batch and they would have gladly been eaten. We were all being rather polite at the table, I think. They're going to be a staple in our kitchen for a long time to come.
And finally, I was in charge of desserts at our friends' German-American Thanksgiving this year, so I made my usual squash pie (with Hokkaido squash instead of butternut), but with the very best crust I've ever made, if I do say so myself. I cobbled it together from Deb's recipe here, but with Melissa's brilliant "think lima beans!" instructions from here. Check out the flake on that thing! People at the dinner party thought I had used puff pastry, it was so flaky. And I did it all by hand, armed only with two dinner knives and some high-fat German butter. It's my new go-to crust recipe.
I'll tell you about the panforte (with candied quince!) in my next post, and then I have to divvy it up among the cookie tins, along with Spekulatius, some sort of nut brittle, snow-white Springerle and a few more things that have yet to be determined. Also, I have recently been bewitched by the sound of a hazelnut-prune tea cake that must be made mine, so stay tuned. And tell me, dear readers, what are you baking these weeks before Christmas? What's going in your cookie tin?