Pancake Day!

This past Tuesday was Pancake Day! Traditionally on Shrove Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday) people ate pancakes to use up eggs, sugar, and fat before the Lenten fast. Somehow, I never knew this until a few weeks ago. Considering pancakes are one of my favorite foods, I absolutely had to make some for dinner.

I decided to make some Croatian-style Palachenka, which are basically like crepes. Except now I know the secret to making nice and thin and lump-free pancakes. Let me show you:

Start out by beating two eggs and try to get some air whipped in there. Then sprinkle in some flour a little bit at a time, mixing completely after each addition (about 1/4 cup at a time). Keep adding and mixing and adding and mixing, making sure you smush out any lumps as you go.

Once it starts to thicken up, add milk a bit at a time, mixing in thoroughly as you go. You can sprinkle in a bit more flour, depending on how many pancakes you want to make. But for smooth pancakes, its important to mix the flour into minimal liquid and then thin it out to the right conistency. In the past, I always mixed the eggs into the milk, then dumped in the flour all at once, and then it is quite difficult to get the lumps out.

The secret ingredient is mineral water – that’s right the bubbly kind. Pour in half a cup or so, watch it fizzle, and then mix it in. Let the batter rest for at least a half hour or so.

Probably if you make crepes often, you know how awesome it is to have a cast iron crepe pan. Unfortunately my crepe pan is in Fairfield, but my non-stick (cheap, thin) pan works pretty darn well. I heat up my pan to medium-highish, and before each pancake add a tiny drip of oil. Then using a ladle, add a very small amount of batter and swirl the pan so that it thinly and evenly coats the pan. Too-thick batter or too much batter makes for a soggy crepe.

In the past, in addition to working with lumpy batter, I always managed to rip or rumple or generally deform my crepes on the flip. Not any more. There is a really easy way to flip them.

Once they start to set, run a butter knife along about a six-inch portion of the edge, just enough so that it comes off the pan. Then, using your fingers, gently grab the crepe on one side and flip it and voila! Flipped over in one perfect piece!

These are so versatile, you can add whatever you like and have a pancake party (you think I am kidding, but I am not). While we were in the kitchen we made a couple with aged white chedder melted in, sort of like a Croatian-Irish quesadilla. Then of course we had some with jam, cinnamon-sugar, and banana-nutella. Who doesn’t love pancakes?

 Happy pancaking and for the record, I did not give up sweets for Lent this year. I decided against it…you know like if I want to bake something sweet before Easter it would be problematic. So instead, I am giving up Croissants. That may not sound too difficult, but I have been known to bribe myself out of bed in the morning with the promise of an oven fresh croissant from the bakery on the way to work. At least I have still got my chai latte.

Scandinavian Cardamom Buns

Rosenmontag aka Shrove Monday is a huge fest here in Germany (especially Cologne where Karneval is THE thing of the year). So happily, since all my coworkers were busy partying I had the day off.  

As I mentioned during my tooth removal recovery, I found lots of fun food blogs and found some delicious looking Scandinavian recipes to make. I am not sure if this recipe for Finnish Pulla (or Bullar in Swedish) could be considered the traditional Shrove Monday Semla, but this sounds pretty similar:

“Today, the Swedish-Finnish semla consists of a cardamom-spiced wheat bun which has its top cut off and insides scooped out, and is then filled with a mix of the scooped-out bread crumbs, milk and almond paste, topped with whipped cream. The cut-off top serves as a lid and is dusted with powdered sugar. Today it is often eaten on its own, with coffee or tea.”

I skipped on the almond-whip cream filling, and unfortunately didn’t have spelt flour on hand, but they still tasted great and I am considering them Shrove Monday buns anyways! I found the original recipe on Scandi Foodie, but here is the half-recipe I used and translated from Metric.

Starter: 1 cup warm milk, 1 heaped Tbs dry yeast, 1 Cup Flour: Mix together, cover, and leave for 20 minutes to get bubbly.

Mix together dry ingredients: 3 Tbs sugar, 1/2 Tbs cardamom, 1/2 tsp salt, 2 Cups flour. Knead the flour mix into the starter, and then work in 5 Tbs melted butter and half an egg (keep the other half for brushing the tops) and then just see how it looks, but I added about another 1/3 Cup flour.

Cover and let it sit for 30 minutes. Roll into 10 buns and let them rise on the baking sheet another 20 minutes while you preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Brush tops with rest of egg and sprinkle with 1/2 Tbs cinnamon mixed with 1 Tbs sugar.

Bake for 15 – 20 minutes and let them cool on a rack. Or eat ’em while there hot. That is what we recommend!

Blondies for Mom

Happy Birthday Mom!

I baked you some blondies! Well, at least I think they’re blondies. And they are delicious, I took the liberty of eating some for you as well. Good thing I bake half recipes.

Here’s the (half) recipe, for future reference:

Sift together 1&1/3 C Flour, 1&1/4 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt.  In another bowl, smush together 1/3 C soft butter and 8 oz brown sugar. Add an egg to the butter/sugar and mix well. Because I only had one egg, and technically for the half recipe you need one and a half eggs, I added a splash of butter milk. Then add 1/2 tsp vanilla and a half package of choco-chips and mix it up. Then add in the flour mixture a bit at a time and mix it up. Put it in a dish and bake at 350 F for about 20 minutes.

If want to make the whole recipe, you can find it here at one of my favorite baking blogs. But be warned – Bakerella’s recipes and photos might make you drool.


Bakalar is dried cod and is most definitely not to be confused with Lutefisk- the gelatinous stinky white fish that my Scandinavian family recall from the all-white Christmas smorgasbord of childhood. Bakalar is the Croatian name for the dried white fish that is imported from the Nordic region and is very popular in Croatia. It is also a traditional Christmas Eve dinner on the Dalmatian coast, where Miljan is from. Bakalar (or Klippfisk) is treated with lye and then becomes Lutefisk, but it’s not quite the same thing.

The first time I saw the dried fish hanging on a rack in the market, I certainly didn’t imagine I would (ever) eat such a thing, and I was at a loss of words when I sarcastically remarked “oh yum” and Milo replied “oh yeah, that is delicious.” I wasn’t sure whether or not he was serious. But then I figured out, oh yes, he was quite serious, and I have eaten (and enjoyed!) bakalar numerous times, but this was the first time Milo made it himself.

First, we soaked a piece (about one-third of the fish) in water overnight. Then we boiled it for 2 hours, and this is where it gets stinky. Despite the cold, we opted to leave a few windows open.

Then he flaked the meat off, and put it back in the pot with some garlic, onion, tomato paste, potato chunks, bay leaf, and oregano. This cooked for about one more hour. 

Delicious- light broth with nice pieces of fish and potato, and finished with olive oil and sea salt. Dobar tek!



Candy Canes

I love candy canes at Christmas time and for some reason, I just don’t see many of them around here- it’s mostly chocolate, gummy candies, black licorice. Well, I did see a small jar of them (1.50 each!) at the candy hut on the Bonn Christmas Market, but in Siegburg we have a medieval Christmas market, and apparently candy canes did not exist in medieval times. Luckily I received an ample supply in the mail (thanks Mom!) and then I got to thinking — are Candy Canes an American invention?

There seem to be two claims floating around the internet. The first, that they were invented by a candy maker in Indiana, shaped like a J for Jesus and white to represent his purity and red to represent his suffering just doesn’t seem that exciting to me.

I like this story better: Back in the day (in Europe, before Indiana existed) people made all sorts of sweets and treats at holiday time – one being a white sugar stick. About 350 years ago, the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral had the candies bent into the shape of shepherd staff, and gave them to the children to keep them quiet during the Christmas services.

Cologne Cathedral

Apparently, the bribe worked, and many years later a German immigrant to America used the canes to decorate his Christmas tree, along with other cookies and candies. The peppermint flavor and red stripes came later, probably as an American update to the traditional sugar stick. (Possibly from a candy maker in Indiana, who knows?)

So there you have it, and here we have our tree, decorated with candy canes and chocolate ornaments. If it’s looking a little sparse, I know nothing about it. Although I may have seen some elves sneaking around…

Happy Christmas Eve!


sea salt fudge

Or maybe I should more accurately describe it as Nutella fudge with sea salt sprinkled on top. I was in a holiday baking mood, and who doesn’t love fudge, so I thought I would give them a try. They were really easy to make, no marble countertop required! The funny thing is this:

Sweetened condensed milk is not quite as popular in Germany as in the US, but I was able to procure some…in a TUBE. Yes, I took a picture just so you could see what I mean.  I used two tubes worth, hoping that was about equal to one can. I think it worked just fine. The easiest ingredient to find was Nutella, seeing as how that seems to be the breakfast spread of choice around here.

I don’t have a brownie pan, but I fashioned my own mold out of a cereal box and tinfoil. It worked out perfectly because there was no baking involved, just refrigeration (after it was all melted together of course). I brought some fudge to work today and the verdict was: “Oh YUM, they taste like chocolate!”

If you also want to make some, you can find the recipe here.


Weihnachtsgebaeck aka German Christmas cookies

Or shall I say my attempt at German Christmas cookies. I was all geared up to bake my favorite gingerbreadmen and sugar cookies. Milo requested Zimtsterne and Vanillekipferl, so I figured it was a good chance to learn something new.  


 Vanillekipferl can best be described as a russian tea cake shaped like the letter C. Ingredients are flour, sugar, butter, and ground hazelnuts. I am not sure if it was because I halved each recipe, or because the last time I used a metric scale to measure flour was 20 years ago with Leslie from upstairs in Frat 154. For some reason, Milo says they don’t taste “right.” I’m not really sure what they are supposed to taste like, but I admit they aren’t as yummy as I hoped. But maybe that’s a good thing.

Milo helped cut the shapes out. Apparently I was not clear when I mentioned, “space them evenly on the cookie sheet.”

The “cinnamon stars” (Zimtsterne) turned out as “almond fish and airplanes.” That was my fault because we didn’t have almond liquer, so I made my own with some grappa and about 20 drops of almond essence. Turns out 2 drops would have sufficed for the entire recipe. Needless to say, the cinnamon was a bit overpowered. And we don’t have any star-shape cookie cutters, but that’s beside the point. They aren’t bad, just different. They are covered with a merengue icing.

Almondy airplanes and fish

We still have a week ’till Christmas. Gingies might make an appearance.

crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside

Happy Baking and Merry Christmas!