Posts Tagged ‘Christmas food’

Cinnamongate: is cinnamon safe to eat?

Sunday, July 19th, 2015

We regularly get asked questions about the safety of cinnamon, e.g. “is cinnamon safe to consume?” or “how much coumarin is there in Steenbergs cinnamon?”  There’s a lot of chatter about this issue in webworld and in blogs.

Cinnamon Quills_02

Cinnamon quills packed into boxes from Sri Lanka

Because of these queries, I thought it useful to investigate the situation and find out the levels of coumarin in some Steenbergs’ products.

In summary:

  • Cassia cinnamon and true cinnamon are very different spices but both are generally sold as “cinnamon”
  • Steenbergs labels and sells true cinnamon as “cinnamon” and cassia cinnamon as “cassia”
  • Cassia cinnamon contains high levels of coumarin, but true cinnamon almost no coumarin
  • Coumarin, so cassia cinnamon, should be ingested in limited amounts:

No more than 1 teaspoon of cassia cinnamon per day, based on EU recommendations for Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) of 0.1 mg of coumarin per kg bodyweight every day

  • Cinnamon (true cinnamon) is safe to eat in terms of coumarin and your health
  • Coumarin may cause liver damage in some susceptible people, but its effects usually appear to be  reversible and so overeating of cassia for short periods does not usually appear to be a problem

If you need further information, you should consult a doctor.  I have taken the data for this blog from official Government sources and current scientific papers, so it is up-to-date as of 19 July 2015.

MORE DETAIL

What is coumarin?
Coumarin is a naturally occurring volatile oil (benzo-α-pyrone), found in many plants, e.g. cassia, cinnamon, tonka beans, vanilla and woodruff.  It gives that pleasing and heady cinnamon aroma – a direct, sweet, fresh hay character.  It was first isolated in tonka beans in the 1820s and took its name from the old botanical name for tonka – Coumarouna which in turn came from the native French Guianan name for the tonka tree, kumarú.

Where is coumarin found?  As mentioned above, it is found in various spices.  However, the most important route of intake is via cassia or cassia cinnamon and this is the cinnamon that the various studies relate to.

This distinction is very important – true cinnamon (Cinnamon verum or Cinnamomum zeylanicum) contains much reduced levels of coumarin.  At Steenbergs, we only sell true cinnamon as cinnamon.  Also, we only use cinnamon as cinnamon in our blends, and if we use cassia it is labelled as cassia not cinnamon.  We do, also, sell cassia cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia, a.k.a. Cinnamomum aromaticus or Cinnamon burmanii), but always label this as cassia and never as cinnamon.

You can tell the difference quite quickly – true cinnamon is a light tan and has a subtle woody aroma like box or sandalwood, with hints of cinnamon and citrus, whereas cassia cinnamon is a darker tan and has a more direct, blunter petrochemical aroma that is strongly “cinnamony” and reminiscent of German Christmas biscuits (Spekulatius or Zimtsterne) and Danish pastries.  As an aside, we are sometimes told Steenbergs cinnamon does not taste like cinnamon, but then find there has been confusion between cassia and cinnamon, because this is the more readily-found form of the spice.

The confusion arises because cassia cinnamon is quite legitimately, also, sold as cinnamon and is the cinnamon used in baking – hence, it’s other name “baker’s cinnamon”.

From a chemical view, cassia and cinnamon are noticeably different.  True cinnamon contains eugenol and benzyl-benzoate and no (or trace) coumarin.  In contrast, cassia cinnamon contains high amounts of coumarin.  Both cassia and cinnamon contain cinnamaldehyde.

In terms of levels of coumarin in powder versus quills, cassia quills have coumarin levels 75% lower than the powder.  For true cinnamon, quills have higher coumarin levels than powder, but both are still low.

Why is coumarin a concern? In high doses, coumarin can cause liver damage in small group of sensitive individuals.  However, only some individuals are susceptible to liver issues from coumarin, and those individuals would need to exceed the TDI for more than two weeks before liver issues might arise, then if they do occur the toxicity is reversible.  Maximum daily limits of coumarin have been set in the EU.

This issue originally arose with a report on cassia cinnamon in 2006 by the Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung (“BfR”), the scientific agency charged with providing scientific evidence for consumer health protection in Germany.  This showed that consumption of foods containing cassia cinnamon can result in the TDI of coumarin being exceeded, because of the high levels of cassia cinnamon used in some recipes.  Consequently, there has been a knock-on impact for bakers of traditional European bakery goods, e.g. cinnamon rolls (Danish pastries/kanelsnegle) and cinnamon Christmas cookies (Zimtsterne) within Europe, and people who use cinnamon to reduce their sugar intake by sprinkling it onto their cereal.

EC Regulation 1334/2008 gives the following limits for coumarin, which specifically excludes spices and mixes of spices, herbs, teas and infusions:

Table 1: Limits for coumarin in particular food categories per EC Regulation 1334/2008


Compound food in which substance is restricted

Maximum level
mg/kg

Traditional and/or seasonal bakery ware containing a reference to cinnamon in the labelling

50

Breakfast cereals including muesli

20

Fine bakery ware, with the exception of traditional and seasonal bakery ware (above)

15

Desserts

5

The best technical information available is found at the BfR’s website.  There is an excellent FAQ that covers pretty much everything you need to know: http://www.bfr.bund.de/cm/349/faq-on-coumarin-in-cinnamon-and-other-foods.pdf, and their latest opinion includes the following on consumption of spices (see http://www.bfr.bund.de/cm/349/new-insights-into-coumarin-contained-in-cinnamon.pdf dated 2012)[1]:

“For cinnamon sticks and cinnamon powder as a spice for household use, no limit values have been defined, however.  If an average coumarin content in cassia cinnamon of 3000mg per kilogram of cinnamon is assumed, the TDI value can be exceeded by consumers who eat a great deal of cassia cinnamon.  For an adult with a body weight of 60kg, the TDI value is reached, if 2g of cassia cinnamon are consumed per day.  For an infant with a body weight of 15kg, this is the case if 0.5g of cassia cinnamon are consumed per day.  Overall exposure can be increased by other sources, for example coumarin-containing cosmetics.  Consumers who frequently and regularly eat cinnamon-containing foods should be aware of this.  The BfR still recommends that cassia cinnamon is consumed in moderation.  Consumers frequently using large quantities of cinnamon as a condiment should therefore opt for the low-coumarin Ceylon cinnamon.”

How much coumarin is there in Steenbergs spice products?  We have had some of our relevant spices tested for coumarin levels by Eurofins Analtytik GmbH, using high performance liquid chromatography.  The results are shown in the table below, together with results from peer-reviewed scientific papers.

Table 2: Coumarin content of cassia cinnamon, true cinnamon and spice blends


Name

Other names

Origin

Coumarin
mg kg-1

Coumarin
%

Cassia Baker’s cinnamon Vietnam

 2 900

0.3 

Cassia [2] Baker’s cinnamon, Chinese cinnamon, bastard cinnamon

4 167

0.4

Cassia [3] Indonesia, Vietnam

3 856

0.4

Cassia [4] Indonesia, Vietnam

2 239

0.2

Cassia [5] China, Indonesia, Vietnam

3 016

0.3

Cassia [6]

3 250

0.3

Cassia [7] Indonesia

4 020

0.4

Cinnamon True cinnamon Sri Lanka

 31

– 

Cinnamon [2] True cinnamon, Ceylon cinnamon Sri Lanka

68

Cinnamon [3] Sri Lanka

nd

Cinnamon [4] Sri Lanka

25

Cinnamon [5] Sri Lanka

nd

Cinnamon [6]

44

Cinnamon [7] Sri Lanka

64

Mixed spice   UK

 670

 0.1

Fairtrade mixed spice   UK

 22

 –

Pumpkin pie   UK

 22

 –

Tonka beans   Brazil

 52 000

 5.2

In conclusion, cassia cinnamon has coumarin levels of 2239 – 4167 mg kg-1, almost 100 times greater than levels in true cinnamon with the range of 0 – 68 mg kg-1.  Steenbergs spice mixes have low coumarin levels at 22 – 670 mg kg-1.  where one of the blends included about one-quarter cassia cinnamon.  In contrast, tonka beans have very high levels of coumarin of 52000 mg kg-1.

What does this mean in relation to safety to eat?  The BfR has issued guidance on the TDI that a person can eat daily over a lifetime without appreciable health risk and this includes those sensitive to liver damage from coumarin[1].  The TDI is 0.1 mg of coumarin per kg bodyweight every day.  An adult of 60-70 kg (9½-11 stone) can, therefore, eat 6-7 mg of coumarin per day safely for the rest of their life.  Further, for a 20-30 kg (3-5 stone) child, the limit is 2-3 mg coumarin.  The European Food Safety Authority has calculated the same levels [8].  Even if this value is exceeded for a short while, this does not appear to pose any health risks per BfR and EFSA.

Translating this into teaspoons, an adult should not consume more than ½-1 teaspoon of cassia cinnamon a day and a child no more than ¼-½ teaspoon of cassia a day.

Another way of thinking about it is that an adult can eat 68-120g of cassia cinnamon biscuits a day (10-24 biscuits) and children 17-30g of cassia cinnamon biscuits a day (4-6 biscuits)[1][5].  For cinnamon Danishes or buns, this is roughly 4 for adults and 1 for children per day.

These levels are relevant through time, so a child who eats his/her coumarin limit twice in a week only reaches 29% of his/her TDI (assuming no other cassia cinnamon is ingested).

In contrast, an adult can consume 55-104 teaspoons of true cinnamon and children 24-45 teaspoons.  Therefore, the levels of consumption for true cinnamon are effectively unlimited in terms of coumarin.

What can bakers do about this?  Ideally, you should get your cassia’s coumarin content tested and determine the final coumarin content of your bakery products.  Also, whenever food authorities have tested for coumarin, quite a number of products seem to exceed the legal limits – probably because people are unaware of the regulations.

However, we have created a practical guide as below.  If we assume the safe limits for coumarin consumption are those listed in the EC Regulation EC 1334/2008, then maximum levels for use of cassia and true cinnamon can be calculated and practical limits determined for bakers and other manufacturers.

Table 3: Practical guide for maximum levels of cassia cinnamon or true cinnamon to meet EC regulations on coumarin for specific food categories


Food category

Max level of coumarin
mg/kg

Max level of cassia(i)
mg/kg

Approximate teaspoons of cassia per kg(ii)

Max level of true cinnamon(i)
mg/kg

Approximate tsp cinnamon per kg(ii)

Traditional and/or seasonal bakery

50

7.9

797.4

399

Breakfast cereals

20

3.2

1

319.0

159

Fine bakery ware

15

2.4

¾

239.2

120

Desserts

5

0.8

¼

79.7

40

Notes:
(i) Maximum levels have been determined as the average coumarin content plus 2.58 x standard deviation; this means maximum amounts will not exceed coumarin content in 99% of cases.
(ii) Based on level teaspoons for cassia of 2.8g and cinnamon 2.0g.

References

[1] BfR (2012), New insights into coumarin contained in cinnamon, BfR opinion No. 036/2012, 27 September 2012, Berlin, Germany (Accessed 12/5/2015)
[2] BfR (2006) Consumers, who eat a lot of cinnamon, currently have an overly high exposure to coumarin, BfR Health Assessment No. 043/2006, 16 June 2006, Berlin, Germany (Accessed 12/5/2015)
[3] Blahová, J., Svobodová, Z. (2012) Assessment of coumarin levels in ground cinnamon available in the Czech retail market, The Scientific World Journal, 2012: 2863851, 4 pp, Available online at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3385612/ (Accessed 12/5/2015)
[4] Lungarini, S., Aurelia, F., Coni , E. (2008) Coumarin and cinnamaldehyde in cinnamon marketed in Italy: A natural chemical hazard? Food Additives & Contaminants: Part A, Volume 25, Issue 11, 31 October 2008, 1297-1305, Available online but not free (Accessed 12/5/2015)
[5] Sproll, C., Ruge, W., Andlauer, C., Godelmann, R., Lachenmeier, D. W. (2008) HPLC analysis and safety assessment of coumarin in foods, Food Chemistry 109, 462-469, 27 December 2007 (Accessed 12/5/2015)
[6] VKM (2010) Risk assessment of courmarin intake in the Norwegian population – opinion of the panel on food additives, flavourings, processing aids, materials in contact with food and cosmetics of the Norwegian scientific committee for food safety (Rep. No. 09/405-2 final), Norwegian Scientific Committee for Food Safety, 12 October 2010, Oslo, Norway, Available online at http://www.vkm.no/dav/271c242c20.pdf (Accessed 12/5/2015)
[7] Woehrlin, F., Fry, H., Abraham, K., Preiss-Weigert, A. (2010) Quantification of flavoring constituents in cinnamon: high variation of coumarin in cassia cark from the German retail market and in authentic samples from Indonesia, Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry, 2010, 58 (19), pp 10568–10575, Available online (but not free) at http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf102112p (Accessed 12/5/2015)
[8} efsa (2008) Coumarin in flavourings and other food ingredients with flavouring properties, Scientific Opinion of the Panel on Food Additives, Flavourings, Processing Aids and Materials in Contact with Food (AFC), The EFSA Journal (2008) 793, 1-15, 8 July 2008, Available online at http://www.efsa.europa.eu/en/scdocs/doc/793.pdf (Accessed 12/5/2015)

Having A Crack At Making Pan Pepato

Monday, March 5th, 2012

One of my favourite Christmassy things is panforte and I, also, love Nurnberger lebkuchen.  It hails from Siena which is probably my favourite city in Italy.  There really is something special about sitting out in the Piazza del Campo, looking across the amphitheatre shape of the cobbled open across to the Palazzo Publico.  Perhaps it is all a bit too idyllic and I am lucky never to have seem the Palio with its crowds and thundering horses which would distract from this view.  Anyway Siena is the capital of panforte.

While I went on the hunt for a panforte recipe and came across a recipe for pan pepato, a peppered biscuit-cake.  In fact, it appears that the history of both panforte and pan pepato are intertwined, with both coming from the region – there are various stories as to whether pan pepato came first then was rejigged in 1879 to make a cake, panforte, in honour of a visit by Queen Margharita of Savoy, while others say panforte came first and Sister Berta fiddled with the recipe to make a more wholesome breadcake, pan pepato, when Siena was besieged in 1554.

Pan pepato is a chocolatey and spicy biscuit cake that is more similar in flavour and texture to lebkuchen than anyone seems to indicate.  This suggests to me that this style of sweet baked goods was pretty ubiquitous across Europe in the Middle Ages, as there is no raising agent in it as would be found in most modern biscuits.  Then in a similar vein to British Christmas items, it is heavy on those grocery items that were really expensive in the past – dried nuts, dried fruits and spices.  They also contain chocolate or cocoa, so probably could not have included these flavours before 1585 when the first commercial shipments of chocolate were recorded nor perhaps until the mid 17th century when cocoa became more freely available.

It is pretty easy to make and is a good use of lots of unusual spices, giving the cake a decently warming aftertaste from the black pepper and cubeb pepper while it has the festive flavours of cassia, nutmeg and cloves coming through.  I like it but it is definitely an adult treat – our kids were decidedly unimpressed and gave that classic “What is that, Dad?” look after the one mouse-like, little bite.

Panpetato Layered In Black And White

Panpepato Layered In Black And White

Note that some recipes suggest that you boil the sugar mix to the soft ball stage, but I did not need that at all, and question whether that is just a modern adjustment to the recipe, e.g Waitrose, but these exclude chocolate and use cocoa instead.

Ingredients

75g / 2½oz sultanas
25g / ¾oz dried figs, chopped into sultana sized pieces
125g / 3½oz hazelnuts
125g / 3½oz almonds
50g / ¾oz pine nuts, chopped
100g / 3½oz chopped mixed peel
100g / 3½oz plain dark chocolate, chopped into medium sized chunks
200g / 7oz runny honey
2tbsp unsalted butter
80g / 2¾oz plain flour, sifted
1tsp ground black pepper
1tsp ground cassia (or ground cinnamon)
½tsp ground nutmeg
¼tsp ground cloves
¼tsp ground cubeb pepper
1tbsp icing sugar, sifted
1tsp pink peppercorns, crushed (optional)

The method

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.

Boil the kettle and pour hot water over the sultanas and chopped figs to soak them.  Leave to infuse for 15 minutes, then drain.  I made a pot of strong black chai tea (you could use any strong black tea), and infuse them in this; it is not traditionally correct, but it worked well, or perhaps you could soak it overnight in a port or sweet white wine, ideally a vin santo.

Put the whole nuts on an ungreased baking tray at 180C/350F and toast for about 5 minutes, which will dry the skins.  Roll these in a clean tea towel for a couple of minutes to remove the skins.   Place the pine nuts on the baking tray and toast for about 3 minutes until they start to colour.  Leave all the nuts to cool down, then chop them roughly.

Turn the oven down to 170C/325F.  Lightly grease two baking trays; use the ones that you used earlier but make sure they have cooled down.

Tip the toasted chopped nuts, soaked fruit, mixed peel and ground spices into a mixing bowl.  Give them all a good stir to thoroughly mix it all together.

Weigh the runny honey in the saucepan, then add the unsalted butter.  Over a medium heat, heat these until the butter has melted.  Take off the heat, add the dark chocolate pieces and stir until all the chocolate has melted.

Pour the chocolate sauce into the nut-fruit mixing bowl and stir thoroughly.  Add the plain flour and mix everything together until it starts to clump.

Pan Pepato Arranged In A Tower

Pan Pepato Arranged In A Tower

Spoon the mix into 8 or 10 scoops, roll into balls then place each onto the greased baking tray.   Flatten the top of each of the balls until each is about 2½ cm thick (1 inch).

Bake for 20-25 minutes until firm.  Take from the oven and allow them to cool completely before removing them.

Dust the tops very generously with icing sugar.  Sprinkle with the crushed pink peppercorns if using them.

They will keep for many weeks and make good Christmas gifts.

Give Some Time And Make Some Christmas Sweets

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

In this festive period, we have been asked out to various families for drinks, or the kids out to parties.  And the question always is what to give people in a period of giving.  So yesterday, the kids and I spent a happy day making sweets, much as we have done before.  So there was a kitchen full or sugar, ground almonds and the smell of chocolate.  Our clothes were covered in the light white snow of icing sugar and there was a healthy crunch of caster sugar beneath our feet on the kitchen tiles.

Our Kitchen Table Covered In Homemade Sweets

Our Kitchen Table Covered In Homemade Sweets

But why bother, when you can buy sweets in the shops.  And where they are way cheaper as well – excluding the ingredients, our time would cost each sweet at about 50p, and that’s sweet and not box of sweets.  The answer is in part that they taste much nicer as we use better ingredients like organic Fairtrade sugar, and are much more generous in the luxury components like chocolate and vanilla.  But also, it is the giving of our time.

In an age where everyone claims to be so time poor, giving excuses like I am far too busy to play with my children or cook a meal from scratch or to make sweets or bake, what is more generous than giving over some time to make something for friends and family.  And they taste pretty damn delicious as well.  Think if I were a hedge fund manager or big corporate fat cat, I could perhaps even get the cost per sweet up to £18 or more per chunk of fudge – think how generous my time would be then.

So I say, please give some time and make something for your friends and family and show how generous you can be by releasing some of your precious time to show how much you love and care.

Enough of that and down to the nitty-gritty, we made marzipan kugeln (or marzipan balls dipped in milk chocolate), peppermint creams (shaped as circles and stars and dipped in chocolate), milk chocolate shapes (Merry Christmas tablets, santas and stars), vanilla fudge and chocolate fudge.  There was something about the fudge that made it extra soft and velvety this year and less crystalline and tablet like.  I think it was the patience and extra diligence over the stirring, but it could just have been the recipe, which was tweaked for the ingredients I had to hand.

Homemade Chocolate Fudge

900g / 2lb caster sugar
100g / 3¼oz unsalted butter
1 large tin of evaporated milk (410g/ 14½oz)
¼ of evaporated milk tin of cold water
250g / 9oz milk chocolate

Prepare a tin, by lining the base with some baking parchment.  We use a 2cm (½ inch) deep pan that is 30cm by 20cm (12 inch x 8 inch).

Put the caster sugar, unsalted butter, evaporated milk and cold water into a heavy bottomed pan.  Put the pan over a medium heat and with a wooden spoon stir the mixture until it is fully dissolved.  While the sugar mixture is melting, melt the milk chocolate over a pan of boiling water, then when melted switch off but keep warm by keeping over the pan.

Turn up the heat a tad and let the sugar mixture boil rapidly, stirring consistently all the while.  When the mixture reaches the soft-ball stage (114C/238F), remove from the heat immediately.  I reckon this part takes around 20 minutes, but many books seem to claim it is much quicker.  Now you need to vigorously stir the mixture until it starts to thicken and begins to become rough – this takes 10 to 15 minutes and is quite tiring on the old arms.

Pour the fudge mixture into the baking tray, smooth over with a spatula.  Then using a sharp knife, cut the fudge into whatever sized cubes you want.

Leave to cool for 3 hours, then turn out of the baking tray, break off the fudge pieces, eating a few along the way to ensure the taste and texture are spot on, then put into an airtight container or some pretty gift boxes for pressies.

Homemade Chocolate Fudge In Gift Box

Homemade Chocolate Fudge In Gift Box

Recipe For Nurnberger Christmas Cookies – German Lebkuchen

Saturday, December 17th, 2011

Following on from the spekulatius blog, we have been having fun trying to make German lebkuchen cookies.

There really is something Christmassy about the spices used in these Christmas biscuits – it’s that glorious mix of cinnamon, nutmeg and that extra richness from the cloves.  Everything about Christmas smells seems to revolve around cloves whether it is the Christmas cake, lebkuchen cookies or making your pomander.  And cloves are such a tricky spice that can completely overpower many spice blends, but seem to conjur up the right flavour for this festive period.

After a few goes at this recipe, this is where we have gotten to this year, but just like for the spekulaas I need to invest in some festive cookie shapes for next year.  Also, I think it would work well with a light chocolate glaze as an alternative to the icing sugar glaze.

Christmas Cookies

Christmas Lebkuchen Cookies

Lebkuchen Recipe

Working On The Lebkuchen Recipe

Working On The Lebkuchen Recipe

The ingredients bit:

250g / 9oz / 1¾ cups plus 1tbsp organic plain flour
85g / 3oz / ¾ cup ground almonds
2½tsp Steenbergs lebkuchen spice mix*
1tsp baking powder
½tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
175ml / ¾ cup clear honey (or golden syrup)
85g / 3oz softened unsalted butter
½tbsp lemon juice (this is lemon from ½ lemon)
½ lemon, finely grated zest (or combine to 1 lemon zested)
½ orange, finely grated zest
Some flaked or half blanched almonds (optional)

For the icing:

100g / 4oz / 1 cup icing sugar (confectioners’ sugar)
1 egg white, beaten

The recipe part:

Sieve the dry ingredients into a large bowl.

Warm the honey and butter in a pan over a low heat until the butter melts, then pour these into the flour mixture.  Add the lemon juice and lemon & orange zest.  Mix well with a hand held whisk until the dough is throughly combined.  Cover and leave to cool overnight, or for at least 2 hours. to let the flavours meld together and work that festive magic.

Heat oven to 180C/ 350F / Gas Mark 4.

Roll the lebkuchen dough in your hands into around 25 balls, each 3cm wide (1 inch wide), then flatten each one slightly into a disc.  Into the centre of the discs, place an almond flake. 

Divide the lebkuchen mixture between 3 baking trays lined with baking parchment, or ideally with an edible baking paper, with a decent amount of room for them to expand into.

Bake for 13 – 15 mins, or until when touched lightly no imprint remains, then cool on a wire rack.  While still warm, glaze the lebkuchen with the icing glaze, made as below.

Brush The Lebkuchen With Glazing Icing

Brush The Lebkuchen With Glazing Icing

While the cookies are baking, make your glazing icing: mix together the icing sugar and egg white to form a smooth, runny icing.

Brush the top of each biscuit with the glazing icing.  Leave to dry out.  I then glazed the top of the icing to give the lebkuchen a shinier lustre, but this is optional.

For the glaze, I took 100g (½ cup) caster sugar and 50ml (¼ cup) of water, melting these in a pan.  Then, I boiled the mix to 90C/200F, when I added 15g (1 tablespoon) of icing sugar.  This glaze was then bushed over the icing.  Granted that it is extra fussy, but then it is Christmas.

You should ideally, allow these Christmas cookies to mellow.  To do this, you should store the lebkuchen in an airtight container for a day or two to allow the flavours to mellow and the cookies to become softer.  To improve the flavours, you could include a few pieces of sliced orange or lemon, but make sure that they are not touching the lebkuchen as this will make them soggy and change the fruit every day to stop them going stale or mouldy.

* To make your own lebkuchen spice mix: ¼tsp ground cloves, ½tsp allspice powder, ½tsp nutmeg powder, 1¼tsp cinnamon

Recipe For Speculaas Biscuits – A Dutch Christmas Treat

Sunday, December 11th, 2011

One of my favourite Christmas cookies are spekulatius biscuits, or speculaas as they are called in the Netherlands.  I remember we always used to get a special parcel from Lebkuchen Schmidt in Nürmberg from my Granny.  In amongst all the beautiful tins and lebkuchen would be a few packs of their spekulatius cookies.  I loved their different shapes.

Then yesterday, our children had friends around before the School Christmas Disco, so to give them something creative to do between the pronouncements of “we’re bored – when is the party”, I made some spiced cookie dough using our Steenbergs koekkruidden spice mix and left the kids to cut out shapes.  Here are the recipes we tried; they are remarkably simple to make and the spice mix brings on those classic clove heavy aromas of the festive season.

Speculaas recipe – version 1

A Few Speculaas On A Plate

A Few Speculaas On A Plate

Ingredients

200g / 7oz self-raising flour
100g / 3½ oz light brown caster sugar
100g / 3½ oz softened butter
2-3 tbsp full milk
3tsp koekkruiden spices*
½ tsp baking powder
Zest of half an orange

For the top:

1 egg white, beaten
3tsp light brown caster sugar
2tbsp flaked almonds 

Preheat the oven to 180C/ 350F. Grease a baking tray.

Mix together all the ingredients in a mixer or blender until throughly mixed together.  Shape the dough into a ball and cover the dough ball with clingfilm and set aside for 1 hour in a cool place.

Flour a work surface and press the dough into an even, flat layer.  Using a cutter, cut shapes from the dough and place on the greased baking tray.

Brush with the egg white, then sprinkle with light brown caster sugar and flaked almonds on top of each speculaas biscuit.

Bake for 14-18 minutes and the biscuits are turning a slightly darker shade of brown. Remove from the baking sheet and allow to cool on a cooling rack.

Speculaas Recipe – Version 2

This recipe for St Nicholas Spiced Shortbread is based on a recipe from Elisabeth Luard’s excellent book – “European Festival Food”.  In it, Elisabeth Luard writes “Speculaas moulds themselves are made of wood – traditionally beech, pear, or walnut – shallow and relief-carved on the same principle as those used for Scottish shortbread.  They are usually 6 – 12 ins/15 – 30cm long and feature the Bishop himself, his donkey, or his servant Black Peter.  Smaller ones might be evergreen leaves and Christmas wreaths or little figures of children.”  We had none of these so just used normal cookie cutters, but I might invest in something for next year as these are really easy to make.

Round Christmas Cookies

Round Christmas Cookies - Speculaas

Ingredients

250g / 8½ oz self raising flour
125g / 4½ oz light brown caster sugar
3tsp koekkruiden spice mix*
50g / 1¾ oz ground almonds
100g / 3½ oz softened butter
1 egg, lightly whisked
1tbsp full milk

For the top:

1 egg white, beaten
3tsp light brown caster sugar
Flaked almonds
 (I bashed them a bit in a mortar and pestle to make them a better shape)

Preheat the oven to 180C/ 350F. Grease a baking tray.

Mix together all the ingredients in a mixer or blender until throughly mixed together.  I used the “K” blade on the Kenwood Mixer.  Shape the dough into a ball and cover the dough ball with clingfilm and set aside for 1 hour in a cool place.

Flour a work surface and press the dough into an even, flat layer.  Using a cutter, cut shapes from the dough and place on the greased baking tray.

Brush with the egg white, then sprinkle with light brown caster sugar and flaked almonds on top of each speculaas biscuit.

Bake for 14 – 18 minutes and the cookies are turning a slightly darker shade of brown. Remove from the baking sheet and allow to cool on a cooling rack.

* To make your own koekkruidden spice mix: ½tsp ground cloves, ½tsp allspice powder, 1tsp cardamom powder, 1tsp cinnamon

Review Of December 2010 Food Blogs (Part 2)

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

At Mahanandi, Indira shared some innovative menu ideas for the Christmas Season, or holiday season as it is called in America – see Menu 1 and Menu 2.  Maison Cupcake was cupcake decorating in a Masterclass in Islington’s The Make Lounge with Mich Turner and I love the recipe for Sweet And Savoury Spiced Nuts at Not Without Salt as they remind me of delicious toasted almonds that I used to get all warm and wrapped in cones of paper from street vendors in Munich.  Also at Not Without Salt in December Ashley posted a Quick Puff Pastry recipe that makes me feel so inadequate as I do not have light enough hands for something as delicate as that, while the post on Homemade Truffles reminds me of promises made to myself and not fulfilled – there is always this year, I suppose.

Orangette posted a neat recipe for Whole Wheat Sablés With Cacoa Nibs.  Sablés are another thing that I really should make and maybe I will during 2011.  At Smitten Kitchen, Deb has been active baking loads of cookies, mostly baking with a Christmas theme like Roasted Chestnut Cookies, Iced Oatmeal Cookies and the most amazing Spiced Gingerbread Cookies that have been so beautifully created.  Savoury wise, Deb made classic Garlic Butter Roasted Mushrooms.

At The Pioneer Woman Cooks, I like Ree Drummond’s recipes for Mulligatawny Soup and Spinach Soup With Gruyere.  Then Ree gets into that Christmas spirit with Lia’s Dark Chocolate Truffles, including several photos of how to make a delicate chocolate butterfly from dark chocolate.  Then there are some offbeat ideas for the Christmas period including recipes for Meatballs With Peppers And Pineapple and Steak Au Poivre, but then in America they get the turkey over at Thanksgiving. 

At The Wednesday Chef, Luisa Weiss makes panforte which is one of those delicacies that I love, enjoying the familar chewy texture and nutty tastes, but perhaps I would settle for candied orange peel rather than quince.  I must admit that it is not something that I ever considered making, but maybe that is another good intention that I can put on my ever expanding list of things I would love to make, but never quite manage to get round to.  And at Wild Yeast, there is a recipe for Candied Lemon Peel which can easily be tweaked for orange, so now I have all the tools to make candied peel in 2011. 

Promises, promises…

Countdown To Christmas

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

It is that time of the year again when I start panicking that I have not got everything ready for Christmas.  What have you forgotten?  No presents bought that is for sure, but the thought and desire is there.  Soon, I feel myself say, there’s still plenty of time. 

The organic turkey has been ordered from Copas via our local village shop, The Smithy in BaldersbyChristmas cake made, but I must make the marzipan and also ice it.  Christmas pudding made for us, my parents and good friends.  Recipe for mincemeat tweaked and new batch of mincemeat made and stirred last weekend with heavenly, boozy smells.  The crib scene has been put out.  I must remember to get the Christmas tree this weekend otherwise we will end out with a scraggly twig like the last few years.  Our daughter’s nativity play watched and enjoyed, where Emily played the part of Mary, which she has been bursting to have forever.  Pantomine booked and to be watched in New Year at Newcastle Theatre Royal: Robin Hood with the fabulous father-son team of Clive Webb and Danny Adams. Lebkuchen from Schmidt & Co in Nuremburg ordered and received.  Treats from Forman & Field ordered and received.

I think I will just marzipan the cake now and try and stop worrying about it.

Wooden Crib Scene

Wooden Crib Scene

Beautiful German Biscuits From Lebkuchen Schmidt In Nuremburg

Beautiful German Biscuits From Lebkuchen Schmidt In Nuremburg

Forman & Field Box Of Christmas Food

Forman & Field Box Of Christmas Food

Recipe For German Stollen

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

My mother is German, our family coming originally from Eastern Germany; in fact, my maternal great great grandfather’s family were from even further east in modern Poland, being a headmaster for a school in Gdansk

Slices Of Homemade Stollen

Slices Of Homemade Stollen

As a result, one of my favourite treats has always been stollen and lebkuchen which my grandmother used to send us from Lebkuchen Schmidt in Nurnburg.  Everything came in gorgeous decorated tins or beautifully covered in pretty wrapping. It really was one of those magical things about my Christmases when I was young, but the mystery has gone a bit now that you can buy versions from Marks & Spencer through to Lidl, even if the quality just is not there; in the same way, Niederegger marzipan was a special treat, yet is now ubiquitous, and we used to get a 10 inch bar covered in chocolate, from which we used to cut off small slices to eat like manna.  As I said earlier, ours used to come from Lebkuchen Schmidt and I have treated myself to a pack this year, so fingers crossed that will arrive by Christmas (the wonders of the world wide web and its power to connect).

But I really felt that I could/ should have a crack at making homemade stollen as, unlike the lebkuchen, this is something (a) I ought to be able to make; (b) the treat factor in stollen is less great.   For reference, I used three books: Delia Smith’s “Christmas”, Christine Ingram and Jennie Shapter’s “Bread” and my other favourite Elisabeth Luard’s “European Peasant Cookery”, with “Bread” used as the key recipe.  Interestingly, modern stollen (or shop bought stollen) has morphed into a relatively dry, sweet fruit cake with some marzipan in it and smothered in icing sugar (nor is it a rich fruit cake like Christmas cake or Yorkshire brack, but quite plain), which is not the real thing which should be an enriched bread; the best locally made stollen cake comes from Bettys & Taylors, which is worth treating yourself to. 

Recipe For German Stollen
 
75g / 3oz / ½ cup organic sultanas
50g / 2oz / ¼ cup organic currants
3tbsp strong black tea or Steenbergs Christmas chai
375g / 13oz / 3¼ cup strong bread flour
Pinch sea salt
50g / 2oz / ¼ cup Fairtrade caster sugar
1tsp Steenbergs stollen spice (or ¼ tsp ground cardamom, ¼ tsp allspice powder and ½ tsp cinnamon powder)
40g / 1½ oz fresh yeast (or half the amount of dried yeast)
120ml / 4fl oz / ½ cup lukewarm full milk
50g / 2oz / ¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
1 medium egg, lightly beaten
55g / 2oz / ⅔ cup organic mixed peel
50g / 2oz / ⅓ cup blanched whole almonds, chopped roughly
Melted butter, for dusting
Icing sugar for dusting

For the marzipan: 

115g / 4oz / 1 cup organic ground almonds
50g / 2 oz / ¼ cup organic Fairtrade caster sugar
50g / 2oz / ¼ cup organic icing sugar
½ tsp natural almond extract
½ tsp lemon juice
½ medium egg, lightly beaten

Weigh out the organic sultanas and currants, then sprinkle the tea over these and leave to soak up the liquid until you need them later.  Sift the bread flour and salt together into a large bowl, then add the sugar and stollen spices and mix thoroughly together.

Tip In The Stollen Spice Mix

Tip In The Stollen Spice Mix

Put the yeast into a small bowl and pour over the lukewarm milk, breaking up the yeast with a fork and mixing to a creamy emulsion.  Make a well in the flour and pour the yeast mix into this and cover the liquid over with a bit of flour.  Cover the bowl with some cling film and leave in a warm place for 30 minutes.  This stage gets the yeast active and growing.

Leave The Yeast To Start Dividing

Leave The Yeast To Get Active

Next, we make the rich bread batter.  Add the melted butter and whisked egg and mix together to a soft dough.  Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes until the dough has a smooth, elastic texture.  Put the dough into a lightly oiled mixing bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm place to rise.  This will take 2 – 3 hours and you are after it doubling in size; I left mine close to a warm fire and it doubled in about 1 hour, but be careful about the warmth as the ideal temperature is about 37C, i.e. human body temperature – too low and it will expand slowly, but if it gets too hot, you will kill off the yeast (that is also why the milk should be tepid or touch tepid).

Add The Melted Butter And Whisked Egg To The Bread Batter

Add The Melted Butter And Whisked Egg To The Bread Batter

Knead The Enriched Dough

Knead The Enriched Dough

While the dough is rising, you should make the marzipan.  This is one of those mega-simple recipes where you simply mix all the ingredients together and knead to a soft, smooth paste.  When made, put in the fridge until you need it. 

When the dough has risen sufficiently, take the marzipan out of the fridge, then tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and punch (knock back) the risen flour.  Flatten and roll the dough to 1 inch thick;. pour over the sultanas, currants, mixed peel and chopped almonds.  Fold over the dough and press and gently knead the dough until all the fruits have become incorporated.  Now roll out the dough to an oval shape about a foot long (30 x 23cm / 12 x 9 inches), then slightly depress the centre with the rolling pin to make it thinner like a crease on a card.  Roll the marzipan to a long thin sausage shape and place it into the slight depression on the dough, leaving a short space at either end.  Fold over the dough, so that it covers the marzipan and gently seal the edges. 
 
Place The Marzipan Roll On The Dough

Place The Marzipan Roll On The Dough

Place the loaf on a prepared baking tin that has been lightly oiled and cover with some oiled clingfilm.  Leave in a warm place to rise to double the volume again, which should take about 60 minutes.
Prepared Loaf Ready For Second Rising

Prepared Loaf Ready For Second Rising

Preheat the oven to 200C/ 400F.  Bake the stollen loaf for about 30 minutes until it is brown and it sounds hollow when tapped.  While warm, brush the surface with some melted butter and leave to cool.  When cool, dust it with icing sugar. 

Sprinkle Icing Sugar Over The Baked Stollen

Sprinkle Icing Sugar Over The Baked Stollen

 

Traditional Mincemeat Recipe

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

I am winning with Christmas food preparations this year, which seems unbelievable considering how little time I seem to have to do anything at the moment;. I am running about one week behind last year.  However, as a man who cooks, I do actually find baking strangely therapeutic and calming at the weekend.  I think it gives me some peace and quiet, allowing my thoughts to settle themselves down after a hectic week at Steenbergs, and this week has been one of those business nightmare weeks.

So Christmas cake was baked 2 weekends ago, Christmas pudding last weekend and this weekend I have made a new batch of mincemeat.  I always make a mammoth sized Christmas cake and extra Christmas puds, giving one to my parents and another to some great friends of ours, both of whom deserve just a little something for their help during the year.  As for the mincemeat, I have usually made one that does not include any sugar as I feel the dried fruit, apple and juices are usually sweet enough, however after some gentle prompting last year, I thought I would try a more traditional version and add some sugar, which is what I did this morning. 

Basically, it is my normal mincemeat recipe with the addition of 250g / 8oz dark molasses sugar from Billingtons crumbled into it and a reduced amount of apple as it seems to ferment a little over time.  Still simple and easy, so my old recipe is now called the “No Added Sugar Mincemeat Recipe” and this will become our “Traditional Mincemeat” recipe.  It really is worth the effort making this as it is really just a case of chucking some ingredients together and leaving to develop flavour over the short time to Christmas.

Ingredients 

175g/ 6oz raisins (Organic and/or Fairtrade if possible)
175g/ 6oz sultanas (Organic and/or Fairtrade if possible)
250g/ 8oz currants (Organic and/or Fairtrade if possible)
85g/ 3oz chopped mixed peel
85g/ 3oz flaked almonds, toasted
125g/ 4oz eating apples (Cox’s are good), cored and chopped but not peeled
125g/ 4oz shredded suet (I  use Community Wholefood’s vegetarian suet, but Atora also do one)
250g / 8oz dark muscovado sugar  (Organic and/or Fairtrade if possible)
1tsp organic Fairtrade nutmeg powder
½ tsp allspice powder
½ rounded tsp organic Fairtrade cinnamon powder
Grated rind and juice of 1 orange (or 50:50 orange and lemon)
75ml/ 1/8 pint “good” whisky or brandy (I use Bruichladdich from Islay)

1.  If possible, use organic ingredients and/or Fairtrade ingredients, as they are good for the environment and the communities that grow the crops.

2.  Simply mix all the ingredients together and seal in a large tub, or ideally a bucket with a lid.

Ingredients For Mincemeat Weighed Out

Ingredients For Mincemeat Weighed Out

Mix The Dark Muscovado Sugar Into The Fruit And Nuts

Mix The Dark Muscovado Sugar Into The Fruit And Nuts

Traditional Mincemeat All Mixed Up

Traditional Mincemeat All Mixed Up

3.  Stir it once or twice in the maturation period – at the end of November and maybe mid December.  Pot it up into a couple of good sized Kilner-style jars on or about the 20th December.

4.  It lasts for a good 2 – 3 years, so don’t worry if you haven’t used it all in one Christmas period.  It is good to use in baked apples or to make a quick mincemeat tart for pudding anytime in the year.

Of Meat In Dumfries And Galloway

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

21/7/2010 – I am sitting here at a table overlooking a glorious lake; not some picture postcard view across Lake Como in brilliant sunshine, but a grey, overcast day with some low lying wispy clouds moving slowly across the conifer plantations opposite me as I look across Loch Ken between Castle Douglas and New Galloway.  Soaring up in the sky there is a red kite, and sometimes you can even see ospreys around here.  I am watching my son sailing with what little wind there is over the loch.  It is your normal British style holiday – activity by the water, or over the dales or over climbing frames.  In the background, I can hear screams of fun and joy as four families battle it out in the laser quest battlefield beside us.  But at least it is currently dry, but probably will start to rain when I go out kayaking this afternoon.

Boats On Loch Ken

Boats On Loch Ken

So I turn my thoughts to other hidden foodie secrets of this wonderful part of Scotland.

Firstly, one that isn’t worth it.  Castle Douglas bills itself as a foodie town, but it’s all a bit of a let down, so other than a decent butcher (Hendersons – good for sausages), a goodish deli/chocolate shop (In House Chocolates) and Tesco, don’t get overexcited about the hype.

However, on Saturdays in Gatehouse of Fleet, they hold a small farmers’ market with a bigger one on the first Saturday of each month.  Last Saturday was the smaller version and it was belting it down when we were there with a few others.  Jen Hen’s is a stall that sells eggs – surprise, surprise – from a flock of mixed hens on a farm near Tongland.  Then, there’s Wigwam Bakery, which was the reason I was here bright and early, as last year when I pottered down the hill, her small selection of beautiful hand-baked goods had all been sold.  I was especially after her Roman Spelt bread and Maslan Bread (a mix of 50:50 white to wholemeal bread using a rye sourdough base), plus she does a goodly variety of other breads, including one called Aphrodite with seeds and things.  Susie had a great selection of sweet baked goods and people were busy trying to get her delicious chocolate cake, while I went for two of her cookies that are a health meal in themselves, packed full of amazing seeds.  You can tell she has a reputation as the locals all queue from her stall early and even on that bitterly cold Saturday.

Then, there was the mobile butcher’s shop, Wullie’s, which is the shop for Wm. Lindsay in Creetown.  I bought some lamb chops from Willie, but really was there to ask him about salt-marsh lamb as I had spotted last year (and this) a flock of sheep on the salt marshes beside Creetown.  Sure enough, he gets 6 lambs every year “for the English” in mid August, but told me he preferred the “blackies from the hills” which he gets in late August/ early September.  I said I would ring him in August about the salt-marsh lamb, so I will keep you posted if I succeed with that.

Sheep On Salt Marshes Near Creetown

Sheep On Salt Marshes Near Creetown

Blackie Sheep On Hills In Dumfries And Galloway

Blackie Sheep On Hills In Dumfries And Galloway

Amazing Horns On Blackie Ram In Cairnsmore Hills

Amazing Horns On Blackie Ram In Cairnsmore Hills

Other than that I had been hunting around for decent meat, which there is little to come by at this time of year, what with lambs being out of season.  The two places I have found good meat are Barstobrick Farm Shop and Cream O’Galloway.  Barstobrick is a fairly soulless site with an equestrian centre, some walks and holiday cabins, plus a dreary cafe and farm shop; however, they do sell their own meat within the farm shop.  It is Aberdeen Angus beef, reared on the farm and slaughtered at their own butchery.  Robin & Hilary Austin then let the meat mature for 21 days before it is packed and sealed and frozen on site.  They sell fillet and sirloin steak, as well as beef sausages and beef-burgers.  We went for the sirloin steak (£24.99/kg), which had great marbling and a lovely deep, brown-red  hue.  We tasted it that night, fried simply in butter to medium-rare and eaten with new potatoes and runner beans; it was deliciously meaty with a sweet hint of grassiness, while your knife just glided through the meat with no problem.  They were really good and worth the visit to this otherwise unprepossessing place.

Sirloin Steaks From Barstobrick Farm Shop

Sirloin Steaks From Barstobrick Farm Shop

At Cream O’Galloway, they butcher some of their Ayrshire dairy herd for meat for their burgers that they serve within the cafe area.  They are delicious burgers (as well as organic) and are made on site; I have had pretty much every type of burger they do over the last three years, with my favourite being the double Mexican burger, where I put a mix of the guacamole, soured cream and salsa between the burgers and then enjoy.  They use decent bread rolls for the burgers, overcoming one of my major bugbears about many burger joints in the UK.  Sometimes, hidden between all the pots of organic ice cream (I’ll talk about those in a separate blog), you can get a few fillet steaks (or other cuts) in one of the freezers before you go into the main activity centre.

We bought a couple of fillet steaks that had a deep red-brown colour and were decently marbled; they were also nicely thick at about an inch or so.  They cost £30/kg and are worth every penny.  We lightly fried the Cream O’Galloway fillet steaks (sold as Rainton Farm which is the name of the farm while the brand I am using is strictly speaking for the ice cream).  We ate them with new potatoes, broccoli for the kids and tomato salad for Sophie and me.  They were heavenly: and were perfect “melt in you mouth meat” as our daughter called them – you knife just sliced through as if you were cutting through silk, and the taste was a rich, luxurious, umami taste of healthy, well-reared meat; you got the sweetness of the organic grass together with the pure salty air off the Solway Firth.  Everyone’s plates were quickly emptied to sounds of “more please?”, but as for Oliver there was no more to be had, except that we had scoffed it all.

Fillet Steaks From Rainton Farm In Dumfries And Galloway

Fillet Steaks From Rainton Farm In Dumfries And Galloway

Rainton Farm steaks are one of the best meats that I have ever come across and if you can ever get close to the Gatehouse Of Fleet area, I urge you to make the detour, as this is one of those amazingly awesome food sources that you stumble across once in a while.