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Christmas baking

French buttery, hazelnutty, chocolatey Christmas cookies – Flours de Lin

IMG_3917.jpgThere is no better combination in French baking than a tender butter cookie made with ground almonds, sandwiched with hazelnut spread and dipped in dark chocolate. These Flours de Lin are relatively easy to make and have become a staple in my Christmas baking.  Even if your piping skills aren’t up to scratch they are so tasty it won’t matter.

IMG_3840.jpgCookie Ingredients (makes apex. 20 cookies)

  • Cake flour – 125 grams (1 cup plus 4 teaspoons)
  • Room temperature butter – 150 grams (5 1/4 ounces)
  • Sea salt – 1/8 teaspoon
  • Granulated sugar – 80 grams (1/3 cup)
  • Ground almonds – 60 grams (1/2 cup plus 1 tbs)
  • Egg whites – 30 grams (1 extra-large white less 1 to 2 teaspoons)
  • Vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste – 5 grams (1 teaspoon)

Directions

Line two sheet pans with parchment paper.

Sift the flour into a bowl and set aside. Place the soft butter with the sea salt and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer and mix with the paddle attachment for 1 minute on medium speed. (Note…if your butter isn’t soft these cookies will require Popeye muscles to pipe) Add the almond flour, egg whites and vanilla and mix until incorporated. Add the sifted flour and mix for 30 seconds only on low speed. Do not over-mix as it will spoil the delicacy of the cookies.

Scrape the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a 3/8 inch star tip. Pipe 1 1/2-inch-long flat teardrop cookies onto the parchment-paper-lined sheet plans, leaving 1/2 space in between them and staggering the rows.

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Hold the pastry bag with the tip at a 45-degree angle, close to the sheet pan. Continue to press on the bag and swing the tip toward you while you progressively stop pressing, so that the teardrop ends in a tail.

Let the cookies rest at room temperature for 1 hour. Thirty minutes before baking preheat the oven to 375 F.

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Bake the cookies for 15 minutes, until golden brown. Cool completely.

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Filling and dipping ingredients

  • Hazelnut paste (such as Nutella) – 200 grams (2/3 cup)
  • Good quality dark chocolate – 200 grams (7 ounces)

Assembly directions

Once cool, flip half of the cookies over and pipe a small amount of the hazelnut paste. Top with another cookie and press down lightly to sandwich.

IMG_3878.jpgSlowly melt the dark chocolate over a double boiler. Dip the tail of each cookie into the chocolate and place the cooke on parchment paper. Let the chocolate harden and then store the cookies in an airtight container. Do not refrigerate.

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(You can substitute the hazelnut paste with a chocolate ganache or raspberry jam if you like.)

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Finnish Christmas bread and the most amazing bread-baking smells ever

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Pulla is a traditional Finnish sweet bread that is flavored with the unique scent of cardamon. Your kitchen, whole house actually, will be filled with the scents of yeasty bread-baking with an amazing cardamon finish. It makes a stunning braided loaf, or can be baked into individual rolls for easy eating. Finnish Pulla is very similar to challah, with its eggs, milk and butter additions but interestingly fragrant with a warmth of spices. It’s fascinating how Scandinavians have the tradition of pulling cardamon, a spice native to India, into their bread baking. It was the Vikings who brought back this spice from their plundering expeditions. How cool is that?

This is my dad’s recipe, scrawled rather cryptically on a hard-to-read recipe card. After some code-breaking and further research, here it is. The recipe originated from a Finnish friend of the family who not only made us Pulla but made it at our house, hence my strong scent-filled memories of this wonderful bread.

Side note about Cardamon

Scandinavians not only use cardamon in their breads, but also in mulled wine, cookies, cakes, pastries and meatballs too.  Cardamon, the third most expensive spice after saffron and vanilla beans. My small bottle cost $10.95. It is a part of the ginger family. Indigenous to South India, and according to some accounts to Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Nepal as well, it was brought to Scandinavia by the Vikings, a thousand years ago, from their travels to Turkey. Cardamon appears in written Nordic cookbooks as early as 1300AD.

Side note about Finnish swearing

This recipe makes two braids. One I’m bringing to Master’s Swimming this morning to present to a Finnish swimming mate, Jarkko. Every swim practice I google a Finnish word and try it out on my pal. Today’s is “jumalauta” which translates to holy shit, or God help me, a good word to use after a tough kick set. (Jarkko hates kick.)

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Ingredients

  • 2 cups milk, heated to 115°
  • 1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cardamon
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 9 cups flour
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1 (2.5 tsp) packages active dry yeast
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Sliced almonds
  • 1 tbsp heavy cream
 Directions
Warm the milk in a small saucepan until it bubbles, then remove from heat. Let cool until lukewarm. Dissolve the year in the warm water. Stir in the lukewarm milk, sugar, salt, one teaspoon of cardamon, 4 eggs and enough flour to make a batter (about 2 cups of the nine). Beat until the dough is smooth and elastic. Add about 3 more cups of the flour and beat well, the dough should be smooth and glossy in appearance. Add the melted butter and stir well. Beat again until the dough looks glossy. Stir in the remaining four until the dough is stiff.
Turn out the bowl onto a floured surface, cover with an inverted mixing bowl and let rest for 15 minutes. Knead the dough until smooth and satiny… at least 10 to 12 minutes.
Transfer dough to a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap; let sit until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
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Risen dough after an hour

 

Punch down dough; cover again with plastic wrap and let sit until fully risen, 30 minutes.
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Who needs a proofing drawer when you have a warm spot in front of the fire.

 

Heat oven to 400°. Transfer dough to a work surface and divide into 3 equal pieces. Set 2 pieces aside and divide other piece into 3 equal portions. Roll each portion between your palms and work surface to create a 16-inch rope. Pinch the three strands together and braid ropes together to form a loaf.
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Transfer loaf to a parchment paper–lined baking sheet. Repeat with second and third dough pieces. Cover loaves with plastic wrap and let sit until slightly puffed up, about 20 minutes.
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Whisk together remaining 1 tsp cardamon, cream, and egg yolk in a small bowl; brush over loaves. Sprinkle with almonds and a bit of white sugar.
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Bake, one loaf at a time, until golden brown, 20–25 minutes. Transfer to a rack; let cool 10
minutes before serving. (Pulla makes wonderful toast too.)
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