Saturday, December 29, 2012

Swiss Walnut Cookies in Interlaken for Christmastime

I planned to ski for the first time in Switzerland in Grindelwald on a day trip, as soon as I discovered a late and unexpected snow had covered the small town. "If you buy this ticket, you can go where the professionals do, and even go to the highest point of Europe to boot," the attendant tried to entice me to purchase it. I imagined sliding down a steep mountainside, and performing slaloms around pine trees.
After renting not only equipment but an entire ski suit to avoid getting more icewater through my tennis shoes, I was headed for adventure! My rosy-cheeked competitors bravely slid down the slopes without any sticks, nor warm coat. I stood next to a lifesize sign of a monkey as I tried to ski a few meters, before I stumbled and lost balance. I had chosen a free ski park in the town, in hopes of starting at a safe beginners' level, and it turned out to be one for kids!

In addition to winter sports, you can also take a boat through the picturesque Thienzersee and Brinzersee lakes. After walking past a chocolate factory and statues of Heidi story characters, you can step on a boat that will take you on a sky blue lake past gingerbread houses and numerous miniature waterfalls generated by melting snow or ice. The best part of the trip, however, is the sight you receive when you first walk off the train: the Alps themselves.

Swiss Walnut Cookies
(adapted from Eat Little Bird and Betty Bossi's Original Recipe)
1 egg white
110 grams of granulated sugar
150 grams of finely ground and sifted walnuts
Whole walnuts to decorate

Beat the egg white until stiff. Stir in granulated sugar and walnut flour until it becomes dough. Roll out the dough and cut out pieces with a linzer cookie cutter (I used a round one). Bake at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes. Cool, then cover with glaze and set a walnut half in the center, on the top of the cookie to decorate.

1 egg white
150 grams powdered sugar
1 tablespoon brandy (original recipe mentions Kirsch)
Beat the egg white and sugar. Add brandy, then pour over cookies. You can alternately try the following recipe, adapted from Eat Little Bird if you prefer not using egg whites:
2 cups of powdered sugar
1 tablespoon of water
1 teaspoon of almond extract


Monday, December 17, 2012

Snowflake Quesadillas in El Salvador

The view between San Ignacio and El Pital, Chalatenango
A storm had been predicted for the day of our trek up the Pital mountain in Chalatenango, El Salvador. Our vehicle trudged up the steep cement road that was still dry. First we visited
La Palma, a town where a local artist trained many of the locals to paint his colorful and simple designs on wood to make souvenirs that are sold all over the country. Shortly up the hill, we found San Ignacio, which is known for wooden crafts as well, except the boxes they make are darker in color and usually have small flowers in their designs. A lot of vegetables are sold from farms nearby that tourists visit to pick their own.
And then we stopped to admire the view further up the road. "This makes the entire trip worth it, " I thought. We had successfully seen the incredible view, even though some days the bright green meadows and cornfields below  can be entirely covered with clouds, making you feel like a cherub playing on a harp in the sky.
But we hadn't even reached the mountain yet!
We began walking up a dusty road, past children emerging from side paths to sell us flowers. It didn't take long for almost everyone (except for four of us) to give up and be thankful for a pickup truck that rolled by to take us to the top of the mountain. There we arrived at the same time as our more flushed and athletic friends.  The giant ferns and other virgin forest plants covered the landscape, and pristine brooks flowed.
Wooden box above is from La Palma, Chalatenango
When we returned to the restaurant/hotel, we enjoyed a piece of quesadilla, a thin cake that contains grated cheese and is sprinkled with sesame seeds. It is somewhat like an onion cheese supper bread, except that it's sweet, doesn't have any onion, and therefore makes a tasty dessert.
The highest point of El Salvador is El Pital in Chalatenango, at 3200 m, equal to that of Bogota in Colombia, and it is usually cooler than the rest of the country.
Quesadillas are eaten year-round in El Salvador. Nonetheless, Christmas is all about keeping old traditions, but making your own new ones as well.... Who is to say that making snowflake quesadillas won't be the next holiday dessert to make again year after year?

Quesadilla Snowflakes

Recipe adapted from Vilma G. de Escobar's Comida Tipica

2 cups of flour
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
8 oz. of Parmesan cheese or Petacones or Queso Duro or Morolique
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1 cup of margarine, melted
1 cup of milk
1/2 cup of sugar

Preheat oven at 325 degrees F. Mix all ingredients together and pour into two greased and floured jelly roll pans. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top. Bake for 25 minutes.

To make shapes, use a metal cookie cutter, and cut the cake into the desired shapes. I used a comfort grip large cookie cutter.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Pepperkakor from Sweden, St. Lucia's Day

These cookies, that smell heavenly when they are baking, were originally Christmas cookies but are now eaten year-round. That explains why I first tasted one that a Swedish classmate gave me in the month of February.
On December 9th, December 13th, and on Christmas they are eaten the most. December 9th is Pepparkakor Day, whereas December 13th is St. Lucia's Day. 
The eve before St. Lucia's Day used to be Christmas, as well as the longest night of the year according to the Julian calendar. 
Gingerbread first arrived in Sweden from Germany in the 1400's. Originally, the dough contained pepper and was useful for curing many ailments. These biscuits used to be sold in pharmacies and were believed to cure indigestion and depression. 

Recipe from

50 grams brown sugar
50 grams white sugar
50 grams molasses 
3 tablespoons water
2.5 ounces butter
1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 tablespoon ginger
1/2 tablespoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
9 ounces flour
Some of the traditional shapes to cut are gingerbread people, stars, and hearts. 
 Heat both sugars, molasses, and water. Add butter and melt it, then remove from the heat. Stir it, then add the spices, baking soda, and flour. Roll out thin and cut into shapes, such as hearts. Poke a hole off center with a lollipop stick or straw. Bake at 350 degrees F for 8-10 minutes.


My gingerbread house for 2012

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Bulgarian Cherry Strudel

The first place I tried cherry strudel in was Pennsylvania, in the summer.
Strudel means "whirlwind", and stands for the filling, which is a whirlwind of ingredients. The oldest written strudel recipe is Viennese, from 1696, and the dough used to make it originated from Middle Eastern pastries; thus, it is related to baklava.

Recipe for Bulgarian Cherry Strudel, or Cherashata
3 cups flour
1 egg
10 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 pounds bing cherries, washed, stemmed, and pitted, or two cans of pitted cherries in liquid, strained
3/4 cup dry breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix the flour, egg, and melted butter. Add warm water a tablespoon at a time. Let it sit for half an hour. Then stretch it slowly and carefully across a clean tablecloth, or a mat. You can roll it out completely on a tablecloth, or choose to roll out fractions of it at a time, on a plastic mat.

Roll it out as thin as you can, in order to be able to see what is underneath. In the photo above, you are able to see and read the words that are on the mat. That means you rolled it thin enough. Sometimes it will tear, invariably. When it does, just make sure the next layer you place over it covers the hole underneath. If you are making smaller layers, you should complete about 8 of them.
Ricotta Strudel Filling
Mix the sugar, breadcrumbs, cherries, and walnuts and place the filling on one end of the phyllo dough. Then cover it with the dough, and roll it until the dough has been used.

Place in oven at 350 degrees for one hour.


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Sicilian Cassatta

Cassatta decorated with a whimsical whipped cream decoration

It is a cake as beautiful as Italy, (and the stunning cookbook I found it in!) without a lot of hassle. 
Sicily is portrayed as an island where Jews, Arabs, and Christians were able to live "side by side in peace and toleration", and this cake is a symbol of it. Monastery nuns made it for Easter, and Jews made it for Purim. Some believe that it also has muslim roots, saying that cassata comes from an arab word that means deep bowl. Others claim that the word comes from latin and means cheese, because the cake is filled with ricotta, according to the traditional recipe. 
Nowadays, it is suitable for Christmas or birthdays, too, and is often served with an ice cream filling in restaurants. So this cake is for celebrating this blog's first birthday! 

Recipe adapted from Italy the Beautiful Cookbook

1/2 cup granulated superfine sugar
1 tablespoon water
1 pound ricotta
3 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
6 ounces candied fruit
2 ounces blanched pistachio nuts
8 ounces sponge or pound cake
1 cup amaretto or sweet dessert wine

Dissolve sugar in water in pan by heating it. Strain the ricotta, to make it smoother, and mix it with the sugar water, chocolate, candied fruit, and pistachios. Cut the sponge cake into 1 cm slices, then cut them into strips. Soak them fully in the amaretto liqueur and line a 7-inch bowl or mold with them:

Cover them with the ricotta mixture; then top with another 1-cm layer of sponge cake.
Refrigerate for several hours, then unmold onto a platter.
Decorate or serve with whipped cream.

Cassatta next to a lily made out of sugar, and an alabaster  jar  from Pisa

Medici, Lorenza. 1996. Italy the Beautiful Cookbook. Harper Collins.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pie, Niagara Falls

I could barely keep my eyes open as a strong gust of water almost blew me away. I had gotten as close as I could to the waterfall, and was now drenched. I had been there only for a minute, but it seemed as if a strong storm had appeared and left as quickly as a tornado. It wasn't the 1600's, when the first non-native Americans, French explorers, first experienced the Falls. The feeling must have been similar, though.
The Maid of the Mist
The small boat that took me past one set of falls to the next zigzagged in and out of the blue marble countertop like a turkey gravy server. As a result, one could feel a soft moist spray throughout most of the voyage, one that has been taken since 1846.

Thunder crashed down in the form of water, leaving a cloud of what appeared to be white debris dust that rose above it, and could be seen from miles away. As I became nearer to this force that gathered strength as it pushed past long jagged rock cliffs that resembled black phantoms hidden beneath the river, the rumbling sound was almost more beautiful than the impressive view, when it cleansed the soul, and left room for nothing else but its contemplation.
A rainbow stretched its glassy colors across the view, much like the bridge nearby. It was a frequent and daily sight in this place, which surely must have fairies, leprechauns, and pots of gold.

 History of Pumpion Pie (that's how it used to be spelled) and Thanksgiving
The first written cooked pumpkin pie recipe was a French recipe recorded in the 1600's. At the time, its dose of vitamin C saved the pilgrims from scurvy. At first, sweet pumpkin recipes were baked inside the gourd, and milk, honey, and spices were added within it as well. Even though a recipe for the pie existed, it might not have been baked in a crust in the New World, or have been a Thanksgiving staple, until the beginning of the 1800's.
It is now eaten for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas in the United States and Canada.

Harvest decoration at a Niagara winery

Niagara Falls at night

Recipe from Libby's Pumpkin Pie Can

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 large eggs
1 can Libby's pumpkin
1 can evaporated milk
1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust
whipped cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix all ingredients, except for the pie crust and the whipped cream, in a bowl. Pour into the unbaked pie crust shell. If you desire, you can take an additional amount of pie crust and cut out miniature leaves to place on the edge and in the center for a decoration. Place in oven for 15 minutes. Lower temperature to 350 degrees and bake for an additional hour. Cool on wire rack for 2 hours. Then serve with whipped cream.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Swedish Cardamom Bread

I visited Pippi Longstocking's house, where she fried eggs and cooked pepperkakor cookies, as small children scrambled in and out of its jungle gym rooms. A short while later, I continued my househunting after timetravelling to see ancient Scandinavian wooden or straw house structures
inside Skansen park, ( or an ancient shipwreck at the Vasa Museet, which I followed with a trip on a boat in front of the Royal Palace, where Nobel Prizes have been presented year after year. After a piece of light green Princess Cake, I walked down the cobblestone streets of the magnificent Gamla Stan, a medieval center, where crowds would celebrate the midsummer night that very same evening. 
This milky bread is traditionally served during Christmastime. 

1 tablespoon yeast
1/4 cup water (110 to 115 degrees C)
1 1/4 cup milk, warm
1/2 cup butter, soft
1/3 cup sugar
3 yolks
2 1/2 teaspoons cardamom
1/8 teaspoon salt
5-5 1/2 cups flour

Knead dough 8 minutes. Let it rise for one hour; divide it in half then in three parts. Roll each part into a 16-inch rope. Then braid three ropes together. Cover. Rise until doubled 45 minutes. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Cut each loaf into 12 slices. 175 cal, 1 g fiber.
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup pecans, chopped
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Cover the bread with the nut filling.


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookies in New York State in the Fall

Jackolantern chocolate chip cookie made with Wilton cookie cutter

In New York State, you can travel through Ichabod Crane's Sleepy Hollow town ( as you follow the road through the landscapes sprinkled with colorful fall foliage in October. 

After following side roads such as I9 west, you can go through Saugerties to the Catskill Mountains, where trees shine metalically, like glow-in-the-dark puzzle pieces, as the sunlight strikes their backs. Locals who declare having arrived for the Woodstock concert in the 1970's, now run restaurants and other small businesses in that small town in the state park.

Seneca Lake, one of the Finger Lakes in New York

Colorful barns and silos on the road, near Niagara

Further north, vines curl around Seneca and Keuka Lakes, as red and orange tree flags pop up every so often. As you near Niagara, barns and silos loom ahead, one after another, until you reach the powerful River, and waterfalls. 

Alton Brown's Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie
Follow the recipe to make the dough, and get a small scoop ready. You can only do half of the scoop, for a regular-sized cookie, or you can do the full scoop, the way his recipe indicates in ounces, to make a larger one.

 Make sure you line your cookie sheets with parchment paper to ensure better shaped cookies. Either avoid using darker pans, or make sure you reduce the baking temperature by 25 degrees if you do use them.
Your cookies will turn out chewy and have a round shape if you use the scoop!
To make the jack'o'lantern, use a Wilton cookie cutter. Place some dough on the cookie sheet, making sure the dough shape is larger than the cutter. Push the cutter into the dough, and remove the dough left around the cutter. You can bake with the cutter still on the dough. This large cookie takes at least 15 minutes longer usually, to bake. Once you take it out of the oven, let it rest for three minutes. Then remove the cutter inmediately, using a knife to run it along the interior edges to make the cookie come out. It will come out in pieces, which you can either paste together with frosting, or just set together on the plate.