There are two types of gingerbread in Germany: the type that is cut into shapes, i.e. the famous Gingerbread Men, and the softer type that is cut into squares and eaten in copious amounts until your stomach hurts (no? You haven't done that? OK, it's just me then...)
If I need fast satisfaction for a Christmas-induced gingerbread craving but do not have the time or patience to make gingerbread men, then this is my go-to recipe. It's extremely easy to make and very delicious - enjoy!
This gingerbread is baked in a square cake pan or Pyrex dish. The dough is relatively quick to make, and the result is an amazingly soft, moist bread bursting with the aromas of all our favourite seasonal spices. Nothing makes your house smell like Christmas quite like a hot oven full of gingerbread.
I'm not going to lie to you: this is a sticky affair. But there are a few tips and tricks to limit the amount of sticky dough you'll have to try and clean off your walls, floors and the family pets...
"Lebkuchen" / German Gingerbread:
> 180g unsalted butter
> 150g caster sugar
> 100g brown sugar
> 2 tbsp honey
> 1 packet / 2 tsp baking powder
> 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
> 1 tsp ginger powder
> 2 tsp cinnamon
> 1 tsp ground cloves
> 350g regular flour
> 100ml cold, strong coffee
> approx. 100ml milk (if needed)
Preheat your oven to 180C degrees.
Sift your flower, spices, cocoa powder and baking powder into a large bowl. Set aside.
Melt the butter, sugars and honey in a pot over gentle heat, stirring regularly.
Once the sugars have dissolved, add this to your dry mix. At this point, it's all not looking very appetizing... but bear with me! It's going to be good!
Now add the coffee and mix everything together quickly. The dough should be thick but pourable (similar to brownie batter). If it's too thick, add some milk.
Pour the dough into a cake pan or casserole dish lined with baking paper. Do NOT forget the baking paper! You'll regret it (the latest when you're doing the dishes later and scrubbing and scrubbing those baking pan with sticky, crusted dough in them!)
Bake in the oven for approx. 25-30min, until the sides are pulling away and a tooth pick inserted in the centre comes out clean. The inside should be fluffy and moist... a bit like a dense sponge cake.
Let the gingerbread cool completely before you add frosting or melted chocolate. (TIP: I let it cool in the baking paper, and then add the topping. The paper helps to "contain" the rivers of sticky goodness)
My grandmother always made a frosting of icing sugar, water and some lemon juice, topped with colourful sprinkles... so that's the way I like to do it, too. You can also decorate it with melted chocolate and almonds: this is very traditional and you'll find this type for sale in many stores and bakeries.
Cut into squares, store in a tin box, and enjoy!
In Germany gingerbread is called LEBKUCHEN, and has a slightly different taste and texture compared to typical gingerbread in the US or the UK. Ours is "chewier" and definitely benefits from the use of individual traditional spices. Its origins can be traced back to the 12th century and was first baked regularly in monasteries. The spices in the dough regarded as being healthy and aiding digestion. Enjoy!
This recipe makes about 50 medium cookies:
* 100g Butter
* 250g Honey
* 120g brown sugar
* 1 tsp cinnamon
* 1 tsp ginger powder
* 1/2 tsp ground cloves (or allspice)
* 2 whole eggs
* 2 tsp cocoa powder
* 440g plain flour
* 1 tsp baking powder
In a pan, gently heat the butter, sugar and honey in a pan and stir regularly until the sugar has completely dissolved.
While this is happening, mix together all the other ingredients in a big bowl. Then add the liquid honey/butter/sugar mix to this (you'll either need a spoon and strong arms, or a kitchen aid machine with a kneading hook attachment).
Now leave the dough to rest/cool down for an hour at room temperature.
Pre-heat your oven to 180C degrees. (160 if fan-assisted)
After an hour, roll out the dough to about 1cm thickness and cut out Gingerbread men or any other shapes you prefer (if the dough is too sticky, place it in the fridge for a few minutes to firm-up, and add a bit more flour).
Place the cookies on a tray lined with baking paper, and bake for approx. 10min.
Once cool, feel free to frost them with icing, sugar pearls, or any other kinds of sweet decoration!
Merry Christmas and Enjoy!
--> Click here for my recipe for soft, easy and quick German gingerbread! http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/tp/21f5c3/
Zimtschnecken literally translated means "cinnamon snails", and are a regular feature in the sweet section of any German bakery.
As there are no decent bakeries or patisseries where I live, I have been forced to learn how to make these myself... and they are delicious! Don't be put off by thinking these are complicated - they're very simple to make and they freeze remarkably well. I like to bake a big batch and keep some in the freezer for spontaneous visitors :-)
--> This recipe makes about 15 medium rolls.
You will need:
> 550 g flour
> 25 g fresh yeast (or 8.5 g dry yeast)
> 70 g melted butter
> 210 ml milk
> 75 g sugar
> 2 free-range eggs
> 1 pinch salt
For the Filling:
> 2 tbsp cinnamon
> 100 g brown sugar
> 100 g ground Hazelnuts or Walnuts
> 100 g butter kept at room temperature
For the Egg wash:
> 1 egg & 2 tbsp milk.
Warm up the milk slightly, add a little of the sugar and stir in your yeast. Leave for a few minutes to "activate": it will start to look frothy with bubbles on the surface.
Meanwhile add the flour, the remaining sugar, the salt, the eggs, and the butter into the mixer.
Mix all the ingredients on low for 5 minutes and add the yeasty milk until it becomes shiny.
Add about 2 tbsp more of flour to the bowl and turn off mixer. Now scrape the dough from the hook.
Sprinkle some flour on your work table. Now knead the dough briefly. Return the dough to the bowl. Cover it and let it rise in a warm spot for about 1 hour or until it has doubled its size.
While the dough is rising bash or chop the walnuts into smaller pieces. In a bowl, mix the softened butter with the brown sugar and cinnamon until well combined. Keep both aside.
You can now set the oven to 185 degrees Celsius.
Punch the air out of the dough. Now roll out the dough to a 1/2 cm thickness, making sure there is enough flour to prevent it from sticking to the table (try to roll it out in a rectangular shape.)
Now spread the filling on the dough. Then sprinkle the walnuts onto the filling. Carefully roll the dough into a log and cut it into slices of about 5cm/2 inch in thickness. Place them on the lined baking tray, leaving enough space for the rolls to rise. Allow them to rise for 15-20 minutes.
Take your egg wash and brush each roll individually. Bake for 12-15 minutes.
Once baked and slightly cooled, mix some icing sugar with a little water and 1 tsp of cinnamon to make a thick but still slightly running icing. Drizzle this across the rolls - DONE!
--> Apologies for the out-of-focus picture... my camera wasn't happy for some reason!
During the Xmas marts there were several stand that were selling the traditional Lebkuchen. Lebkuchen is a traditional German Xmas treat similar to a gingerbread cookie. Lebkuchen was created by monks in the 13th Century and there are written records of lebkuchen bakers in Ulm in 1296.
This cake is surely Germany's sweetest "export" renown all over the world. I come from an area in German called Baden-Wuerttemberg, which also includes the famous and beautiful Black Forest. The Black Forest Gateau ("Schwarzwaelder Kirschtorte") is a chocolate sponge filled with cream, cherries and of course cherry Schnapps ("Kirschwasser").
This cake may look impressive, but is actually not that difficult to make.
Traditionally, the cherry filling for this cake is made by boiling the juice from a large jar of sour cherries with some gelatin, until it is thick and spreadable. Of course, you can take this approach if you like. I find it far too tedious and like to use a good quality (and not overly sweet) cherry jam instead!
And by the way; for those of you omitting the alcohol: German statutory interpretation states Kirschwasser as a mandatory ingredient, otherwise the cake is legally not allowed to be marketed as Schwarzwaelder Kirschtorte!
FOR THE SPONGE:
6 large, free-range eggs
3-4 tbsp warm water
130g caster sugar
1 packet vanilla sugar (or some vanilla extract)
150g plain flour
50g corn flour
3 tbsp good quality cocoa powder
4 tsp baking powder
FOR THE FILLING:
12 tbsp Kirsch (cherry Schnapps)
1 litre whipping cream
1 packet vanilla sugar
3 tbsp caster sugar
2 packets cream stabilizer (optional)
approx. 500g maraschino, sour or normal cherries
a small jar of good quality cherry jam
approx. 100g dark chocolate shavings (or grated chocolate)
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Carefully separate the egg yolks & egg whites. Add the water to the yolks and whisk.
Whilst whisking, bit by bit add about 2/3 of the caster sugar and all of the vanilla sugar, until the egg yolks are frothy and pale.
In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff and slowly incorporate the remaining sugar.
Now carefully add the stiff whites to the yolk mixture. Now sift together the flour, corn flour, cacao powder and the baking powder and add this to the bowl. Carefully lift and gently mix everything together to create a light dough (don’t overmix!)
Grease the bottom of a round 23cm baking tin and line the bottom and sides with baking paper. Pour in the dough and bake for approx. 30-35min. Remove the sponge from the tin whilst still hot by tipping it upside down onto a wire rack. If the baking paper is sticking to the cake, brush it with a little water and then peel it off.
Once the sponge has completely cooled, cut it horizontally twice so that you end up with 3 rounds (if you have a steady hand, do this with a sharp knife. Otherwise you can also use a thin thread, which works really well). Now sprinkle each round of sponge with 4 tbsp of the cherry Schnapps.
--> You are now ready to assemble the gateau!
Whip the cream with the vanilla sugar, 2 tbsp caster sugar (and the stabilizer if using) until stiff.
Now spread some of the cherry jam onto the first sponge round.
Top this with a good amount of the whipped cream and add some cherries.
Now place the second sponge round on top, and do the same layers again.
Now top the cake with the last sponge round, and cover the entire cake with a layer of the cream. Decorate the corners of the cake by using a piping bag, and top each dollop of piped cream with a cherry (see photo.)
Finally, sprinkle the chocolate shavings (or grated chocolate) over the top (and decorate the sides with chocolate if you're feeling creative) and put the cake in the refrigerator.
--> The cake can be kept for a maximum of 3 days in the fridge…
happy baking, and enjoy!
I took my Scottish fiance to Germany for the first time. His first question was "are all you Germans blond?" followed by "why is everyone chewing"?
You'll notice that in Heidelberg people are on the move, and it's normal to see everyone "snacking" constantly. There are so many yummy things... I don't blame them!
Here are some "typical" German foods. Note that Southern German cuisine differs greatly from Northern German cuisine. Many dishes in Heidelberg will also be served in Cologne & Munich, but probably not in Hamburg or Berlin.
> Bakeries ("Baekerei" in German) - they are the Germans' "backbone". We love our fresh breads & pastries, and many bakeries have added a few tall tables in a corner so you can stand, have a snack & a cup of coffee ("Stehcafe" = standing cafe) Try: Mohnstrudel / Schneckennudel (poppyseed cake), Zopf (yeast dough cake), Berliner (jam filled donut), Bienenstich (cream-filled cake "bee sting"), etc.
> On that note, let's mention the "Brezel" - I don't mean those tiny, salty crispy things that Americans eat whilst watching TV. The original Brezel is big, chewy with a buttery taste and has been dipped into a special brine before baking.
> The Almighty Sausage ("Wurst" in German): Germans love their MEATS. Even though I no longer eat meat, I have to admit: you haven't eaten a sausage until you've tried a German sausage! Look for "Bratwurst" or "Knackwurst" and enjoy! Most sausages are pork, but beef or turkey are widely available. The most famous is the "Nuernberger". The sausage is best eaten with some mustard, wedged between a crispy white bun or with a Brezel.
> "A grumpy German is a Sauer Kraut"... this sour cabbage dish is famous. You either love it or hate it. Truth is: it's incredibly healthy & high in vitamin C.
> The best Ham & Cake in the world: The Black Forest isn't far from Heidelberg, so in the city itself you'll find the world famous Ham and also the Cake (or Gateau). Look for "Schwarzwaelder" and enjoy!
(click on the photos!)
"Gluehwein" is the German word for Mulled Wine; a hot aromatic drink full of spices that's synonymous with the festive season.
This jam is something I make every year as it's a fantastic little gift for friends, family and colleagues. And if you have a glut of apples, plums or mixed berries this is a great way to use them. For children you can substitute the red wine for red grape juice, but to be honest after about 1 hour of boiling there is definitely no alcohol left in this concoction!
Making jam yourself may seem daunting at first but trust me: it's easy!
"Gluehweinmarmelade" (makes about 4 jars)
* 1.2kg tangy apples (or half apples / half plums)
* 600ml red wine (or red grape juice for kids)
* 200ml orange juice
* 3-4 cloves
* 1 cinnamon stick (or 1 tsp powder)
* 1 tsp ground allspice
* 2 vanilla pod, with seeds
* 900g caster sugar
* 1 lemon, juiced
* 3-4 tbsp raisins
1. Peel and core apples; then cut into cubes. (de-stone the plums)
2. Add all ingredients to a tall pot (be careful, jam tends to rise a lot whilst boiling!) and bring to the boil. Stir occasionally.
3. Put a small saucer into the freezer (it will make sense soon...)
4. Once bubbling, leave to boil vigorously for about 50min. To test whether the jam has "set", take a teaspoon full and drizzle it onto the cold saucer. If you can touch the surface after a few seconds and it doesn't run when tilting the saucer, it has set. If not, keep boiling for another minute and then test it again.
5. Once it has set, remove the cloves, vanilla pod and cinnamon stick (if using). If you like a smooth jam, you can now blend it.
6. Skim any scum/foam that has risen to the surface and fill the jam into 4 sterilized jars.
7. Close the jars and place them upside down for about 15min (this ensures that the lids create a tight vacuum). Merry Christmas!
Decorate your jam jars with hand written labels for an even more personalized touch. If you've sterilized and sealed your jars properly the jam should last for up to a year unopened. Once opened, store in the fridge.
Merry Christmas and Enjoy!
--> click on the photo for step-by-step pictures!
In one of the Christmas markets there was a stall selling honey wine. This wine was advertised as "made with honey from Heidelberg", which is why it's on this page. The wine is served hot and it tastes quite nice - I thought it was gonna be too sweet (since honey is) but it wasn't. I felt "nothing" after the first sip but then I felt the aftertaste of honey and got hooked!
This honey wine is similar to mead, a drink that vikings (among others) used to drink.
The wine itself was from Bad Neustadt.
More German specialities: Note that Southern German cuisine differs greatly from Northern German cuisine.
> "Knoedel" - Dumplings from Southern Germany. You'll find dumplings made from pototato (Kartoffelknoedel) and I like making dumplings from bread (Semmelknoedel).
> "Frikadellen" - meat patties / balls that are heavily seasoned with fresh herbs, fried in a pan and traditionally served with bean salad or potato salad.
> "Spanferkel" – a whole spit roast suckling pig.
> We invented Aspirin, the athletic sneaker, the MP3 File, and the Haribo GUMMIBEARS! Visit the "Baerenshop" near the Holy Ghost church for more varieties of the famous gelatine treat.
> "Vesper" or "Brotzeit" - the cold meal: you don't always need a hot meal to fill you up. Germans enjoy "bread time" and a "Vesperplatte" is served in most German restaurants. This will typically consist of breads, butter, various meats and cheeses, pickled gherkins, salads and eggs.
> The "Schnitzel" - adopted from Austria. The "Wiener Schnitzel" is the original Schnitzel, also well-known & loved in Southern Germany. This is a thin piece of veal, breaded & fried, and topped-off with lemon accompanied by French fries. Pork Schnitzel and Turkey Schnitzel are also widely available.
> "Spaetzle" - famous for the regions of Schwaben & Baden: These chunky noodles are "the star" of our cuisine. The dough is made with lots of eggs, and they are extremely filling but so tasty! Usually served with a goulash, stew and lots of gravy. Further South, the speciality dish is "Kaesespaetzle"... baked with grated cheese!
> "Beer = Bier!": German brewers adhere to the Bavarian Reinheitsgebot (purity requirement) dating from 1516. There are approx. 1300 breweries in Germany producing over 5000 brands of beer.... enough said, CHEERS!
(click on the photos!)
Heidelberg being a major student city, there is a history of student pubs here of which the most famous (and therefore also touristy) are zum Sepp'l and zum Roten Ochsen which are almost side by side in the Old town. The latter was closed during our visit, but we did get into zum Sepp'l which had all those student signs that you would expect, in this case stolen street signs from all over the world (see third picture) as well as carvings in the wooden walls, photos and a lot of other fun to look at. A very cosy, wooden interior and friendly staff, I guess this place is a lot livelier when in the middle of the student season (we visited during All Saints). The Roten Ochsen next door has more of a "red table cloth" style but is equally German. Both also serve food, although the travel guides call this expensive compared to other eating establishments in town. We never tried.
This is definately the BIGGEST can beer I'd ever seen in my life! I just found it in supermarket here!!!!!
Beer is the cheapest drink I can find in supermarket, even cheaper than distilled water!