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.