Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Serenakake -Norwegian Butter Biscuits {Recipe}

These biscuits hold a very special place in my heart.  It's the first Norwegian recipe my mother gave me.

Back in the day when I was a government PR girl, I would bake a big batch and gift wrap them in cellophane bags to give to my work colleagues.  After a couple of years they guys would get expectant looks on their faces in the last week of work - yes, they are that di-licious!

I like to think of these as Norway's version of the Danish butter cookie you often see in gift tins at Christmas time except its made with love and not in a factory.

The dough is really simple to make - cream the butter and sugar, add the egg and sift over the flour and mix til it forms a soft dough.  And when I say soft, I mean soft.  It has to be refrigerated otherwise its unmanageable. Ideally you would whip it up the night before and bake it the next day.

You might also be interested to know that you can make these cookies with a heart smart margarine like   Gold'n Canola Lite.  My mum has been watching her cholesterol for eons and has substituted the spread so she can still enjoy one of her favourite yuletime treats.

I can't say that its exactly as nice as the original recipe intended but sometimes in the interests of health concerns we have to make concessions.  I haven't tried making them with gluten free flour but I'd be interested to know if they turned out.  If you have nut allergies you could omit the chopped almonds and sprinkle coffee / demerara sugar on top instead.

I was able to use some of my home made vanilla sugar.

In keeping with the nordic theme, Olive and I made some Scandinavian woven hearts.  She was fascinated about how they turned into little baskets that could hold things like biscuits.  Mind you, you'd need to line them with greaseproof paper I soon discovered when taking photos!

Are you getting crafty this Christmas?

Recipe: Serenakake (Norwegian Butter Biscuits)
Makes 40+ biscuits

150g butter or cooking margarine
100g caster sugar
1 egg (60g), lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla sugar
1/4 tsp baking powder
200g plain flour
1 egg white, beaten (for glazing)
chopped almonds

  1. Put on your favourite Xmas CD and hit play.
  2. Cream butter and sugar together in mixmaster til white and creamy.
  3. Sift in flour, baking powder and vanilla sugar.
  4. Add egg and mix all together to form a soft dough.  Wrap in cling film and and chill for at least one hour. (My mum recommends chilling overnight for best results.)
  5. Preheat your oven to 180C and line two baking trays with baking paper.
  6. Roll dough up into small balls (approx 2 tsp worth) and place onto the lined tray, allowing generous room around each for spreading.
  7. Using a fork dipped into flour, flatten each biscuit with the tines - to leave a ridge pattern.
  8. Glaze biscuits with egg white and sprinkle chopped almonds on top.
  9. Bake biscuits for 10-15 mins or until golden in colour.
  10. Transfer to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.
Bake ahead tips:
Unbaked biscuits can be frozen at the end of step 7.  Place tray of flattened cookies into freezer to flash freeze.  Transfer to a freezer safe container and label.
To bake from frozen, place biscuits onto lined baking tray (allowing room to spread) and glaze with beaten egg white. Sprinkle chopped almonds on top and bake in preheated 180C oven for 10-15mins or until golden in colour.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Birthday cake rewind

December is not just about Xmas in our household - its also Olive's birthday.

So aside from all my Xmas baking, I'm also thinking about birthday cakes and party food.

With a birthday the week before Xmas I guess I feel like I need to make an extra fuss and plan something fabulous each year. Olive loves a party and has been actively planning this year's celebration since March!

This year she's picked a pirate theme. I can't wait to see Olive and her scurvy crew running around in their costumes, climbing aboard her pirate ship sandpit and sailing the high seas to seek buried treasure.

The cake is under way (and under wraps until the party).  Olive's excited because it combines three of her favourite things - you'll have to check back next month to see what they are.

My interest in cake decorating really started with her first birthday cake. So for a little bit of fun, here's Olive's life in birthday cakes (and the evolution of my decorating skills).

1st Birthday/Naming day - Butterfly cake

Hmmm...I think Olive's cousin had a little taste test of the icing!

Any of you familiar with the Australian Women's Weekly party cakes book will instantly recognise this butterfly cake.  It was the first time I'd ever covered a cake in buttercream and I was on a steep learning curve:

  • buttercream melts - you need to keep the cake refrigerated.
  • Smarties bleed colour when refrigerated - don't keep the decorated cake in the fridge!

I'm not sure why but we never managed to get a proper photo of the cake - clearly this is way before my blogging days - now I take more photos of the cake than the event!

2nd Birthday - Beehive cake

For her second birthday we had a Teddy Bears Picnic themed party.  Hence the beehive cake.

This was the first time I'd ever used fondant on a cake!  The yellow fondant 'honey' dripping over the cake was cut freehand and draped over the cake.

The honey flavoured cake was cooked in a dolly varden tin and glazed in a honey syrup to make it sticky and glossy. The bees are made out of yellow jelly beans with black writing icing stripes and almond flake wings.

Buzz buzz buzz

3rd Birthday - Tea party cake

My first ever fondant covered cake! Again a steep learning curve but not nearly as hard as I thought it would be.  The strategically placed flowers hide a multitude of sins!

The triple layered white chocolate mud cake is filled with strawberry buttercream and covered in white chocolate ganche and fondant. I did make all the flowers and the lettering but took the easy (smart) option and used a porcelain tea set for the main decoration - who said everything has to be edible?

Another important lesson learned: white chocolate mudcake/buttercream/ganache/fondant combination is ridiculously sweet - you only need the tiniest slice!

Happy 3rd birthday my beautiful girl!

Do you love making birthday cakes for your children?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Maureen’s Mistletoe Mince Pies {Recipe}

This week I’m sharing with you a recipe given to me by my one of my best friend’s mum, Maureen.

I was bemoaning my lack of a tried and true mince tart recipe for the blog recently when Shelby talked up her mum’s pies – the pastry has orange zest in them which gives it a special lift.  “Just ask her – she’d love to share it with you”, she said. So I did.  And to my delight, Maureen said yes.

Chatting with her a few days later, Maureen told me she’s been making these mince pies for forty years.  She found the recipe in a little four page leaflet from The Australian Dried Fruits Association that she picked up in a health food shop. It is so old it is in imperial measure so you will need to convert, she told me. 

Like many recipes of its age, it’s deliberately vague about the final quantity it makes. I was able to make 20 using domed tartlet pans but I rolled the pastry out too thin.  Next time I‘ll make the pastry a little thicker, say 3mm thick – that will most likely yield 15 pies.

Next time?  Yes, I’ll definitely make these again.  I know my first attempt wasn’t perfect but its opened my eyes up to the possibilities. 

For the first time in my life I’ve tasted a mince pie that I actually like. It must be the divine orange pastry. It’s more like biscuit pastry than shortcrust. In fact you can bake the leftover dough as small cookies.  Yum.

For the purposes of this recipe I have used an off the shelf filling - Robertson’s Traditional Fruit Mince.  They bear the royal seal so I figure if it’s good enough for Lizzie and Phil, it’ll be good enough for us. I soaked the fruit mince in brandy overnight but you could do it for as long or as little as suited you.  
Next time I think I might try making my own mince (now that I know I kind of like them).

To make cooking more efficient, you could make the pastry the night before and bake the next day.  I work with half the dough at a time and chill it in between.  Today was pretty humid here so the pastry melted fast. 

Few of us have an inbuilt marble slab in our bench but I improvise using a large white tile. You will need to roll the dough between sheets of baking paper to minimise sticking.  I also dust the dough with icing sugar instead of flour.

The cooked tartlets can be frozen – hooray – and re-crisped in a slow-moderate oven (160°C), covered in foil for 10-15minutes. 

Christmas is all about giving so I feel honoured to receive this lovely recipe gift from Maureen, especially since she has been such a great supporter of my cooking adventures and this blog. I hope I've done her recipe proud.

What are you giving this Christmas?

Recipe: Maureen’s Mistletoe Mince Pies
Original recipe from The Australian Dried Fruits Association, circa 1970
Makes 15+tartlets

Orange pastry
3 oz. (90g) butter, softened
2 oz. (60) caster sugar
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
1 egg yolk
1 dessertspoon water
1/2  teaspoon vanilla essence
3 oz. (90g) plain flour
2 oz. (60g) self-raising flour
1 oz. (30g) cornflour
pinch salt

1 1/2 cups of prepared fruit mince (or 410g jar Robertsons fruit mince), flavoured with 4 teaspoons (1 tbls) of brandy 

  • Cream together butter sugar until light and fluffy. Add the orange rind, egg yolk, water and vanilla, beat well. Sift together the dry ingredients and blend into the mixture making a firm dough. Kneed lightly and chill for about an hour. This pastry may be made the day before required.
  • Roll out the pastry thinly. Using a 7cm cutter, cut out fluted rounds and line tartlet or patty tin trays.Chill for 10-15minutes.
  • Fill with a small quantity of fruit mince and level off. 
  • Roll out remaining pastry and cut into shapes such as stars, bells or Christmas trees.
  • Arrange pastry tops over the fruit mince.
  • Place in a hot (200C /180 fan) oven and bake for 10 minutes and then reduce the heat to moderate (180C/160C Fan), and bake a further 16-20 minutes or until the pastry is golden and cooked through.
  • Allow to cool on a cake rack.
  • Serve dusted with icing sugar.

  • The dough should be approximately 3mm thick. Too thin and it will overcook and be especially crisp (just like my first batch!); too thick and the pastry won’t cook through properly.
  • Don’t put too much fruit mince in – it will boil and bubble during baking and could bubble over the edges of your tarts (like mine did). Also try to level the mince surface before you put the pastry shape on top.
  • Chill the filled tarts for 10-15minutes before you bake them.  It will stop the pastry top from melting as soon as it gets into the oven and give you a prettier looking pie lid.
  • You will have leftover fruit mince. If you don’t, you have over-filled your tarts.
  • Left over pastry makes di-licious biscuits.  Roll into balls and flatten. Bake for approximately 8 minutes til just golden – yummo (I like to call this the official cooks treat!)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Norwegian almond cookies - Kransekake {Recipe}

I'm ashamed to say that I’m not very fluent in Norwegian but I do have the important things down pat like
chocolate - sjokolade,
cake - kake, and
thank you for the meal - takk for maten.
Then of course there’s the important social greetings like
“Hello” - Hei!“Happy Birthday” - Gratulerer med dagen, and
Merry Christmas - God Jul.
But there’s another part of the Norwegian language that I am slowly mastering – cookies.

Cookies are the traditional language of Christmas in Norway.  Each year on Christmas Eve, families lay a feast which must include seven sorts of classic Christmas cookies.  My mum tells me the number varies according to the region you come from – she remembers her mum making twelve different cookies but these days seven is more common.

These days most families buy their cookies for the Christmas table but there are still some husmors (housewives) who still bake the holiday favourites. 

There are over twenty classic Christmas cookies to choose from but one of my favourites is a recipe that I've already shared with you before: Kransekake.

Kransekake is Norway's answer to the macaroon.  Jaw achingly chewy, they are highly addictive.  Baked as rings, Kransekake makes an impressive centrepiece at important holidays and celebrations – remember the one I made one for my sister's wedding cake

But I think that they're equally di-licious and a lot simpler to bake as little cookies.

Leave them plain or ice them with royal icing.  Either way they’d make a wonderful gift presented in a pretty jar. 

The baked cookies also freeze like a dream, making them a fantastic bake-ahead recipe for the silly season.  I’ll be baking a few more batches before December in order to meet the family demands.

And if you’re looking for a little Scandinavian inspiration this Christmas, why not check out IKEA.  I picked up these gorgeous reindeer tree decorations last week.  They also have the sweetest Nordic cookie cutters... you’ll be a Scandi baker before you know it.

God Jul!

Recipe: Norwegian almond macaroon cookies (Kransekake)
Makes: 50+ cookies

330g pure icing sugar
330g ground almonds
2 egg whites
5 drops almond essence

Royal icing
1 cup icing sugar, sifted
1 egg white


  • Preheat oven to 200°C. Line two baking trays with baking paper.
  • Using a food processor, grind together the icing sugar and almond meal.
  • Tip into a large mixing bowl and then add egg whites and almond essence.
  • Mix together until the mixture becomes a smooth dough.
  • Sprinkle your benchtop with icing sugar and using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to a thickness of 1 cm. (If the dough is too sticky, use a sheet of baking paper between the dough and rolling pin to make rolling easier).
  • Using a 2cm round cutter, cut out rounds of dough and place onto the lined baking sheets.
  • Bake cookies for approx 10min until slightly coloured.  They should be dry and firm on the outside but slightly chewy on the inside.
  • Allow to cool on tray for five minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

Royal icing

  • Whizz your icing sugar in a food processor (cheat's way of sifting).
  • Add the egg white and mix on low speed until egg white is incorporated and then on medium speed until icing is smooth.
  • Fit a piping bag with a small plain piping tip.
  • Load up your piping bag with icing and decorate cookies as desired.

Baking notes:
  • The recipe is simple enough – almonds, icing sugar and egg whites.  I cheat and use ready-ground almond meal and use a food processor to whizz the icing sugar with the almond meal so I don’t have to sift it (purists would grind the nuts themselves and sift it with the icing sugar). 
  • I've added almond essence to imitate the taste of bitter almonds.
  • If you don't have a small round cutter, roll the dough into walnut sized balls and flatten slightly before baking.  They'll be just as di-licious.
  • Baked, uniced cookies can be frozen for 3-6months.