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Lingonberry Cream Buckwheat Torte (Heidjertorte)

  "Distance means nothing when your kitchen smells like home." -Luisa Weiss

  In her book (which I've loved and read a few times) "My Berlin Kitchen," Luisa is talking about distance in the physical sense. She traveled a lot, and making familiar dishes in different kitchens brought a sense of familiarity to her.

  I agree with this sentiment wholeheartedly, and I think it can apply in a more abstract way as well.

  Loss is felt more keenly on the holidays. I was reminded of this by the shadows in my sister-in-law's generally sparkly eyes over Thanksgiving. Relatives, whether you were impeccably close or not, are always difficult to define as 'gone.' 

  I couldn't help but remember the first few Christmases after Grandma Edna passed. Sure, they were still Christmas-y, fun and filled with family. But there is always the underlying tone of something missing, and after awhile you learn to accept the difference.

  And sometimes you learn that you need a little reminder of that person, too. I saw this recipe (or rather photo) pop up on Luisa Weiss's (aka The Wednesday Chef) instagram a while ago. A fatless buckwheat sponge, lingonberry whipped cream and a slathering of freshly whipped cream to finish it off. Color me intrigued, this cake might as well have been something my grandma made once upon a time.

  So I took away some distance between me and my Grandma's spirit when I filled the kitchen with the scent of freshly-baked buckwheat, tart lingonberry preserves and fresh cream. 

  The sugared cranberries and rosemary on top, however, is all me. There's no way Grandma would have bothered with that nonsense, especially with a big family at Christmas--but she would've though it was very pretty.

  This comes from Luisa's latest book, Classic German Baking. And while I'm not the proud owner of it just yet (and I have approximately zero dollars to invest in anything this time of year), with a little digging I found her recipe reviewed on Taste and went to town. In a matter of minutes, Christmas dessert was decided, and I was eagerly searching my grocer's shelves for lingonberries and buckwheat.

  If you're thrown off by the combination of flavors in this cake, good heavens don't be. The lightness of the fatless sponge perfectly compliments a wholesome buckwheat flour. And while it is slightly bitter and plain on its own, combined with generous helpings of rich whipped cream and the pleasing sweet tartness of lingonberry preserves, it's truly a magical cake in its own right. Refreshing after a heavy, long meal.

  Life goes on, Christmases go on and I'm so grateful to have had the grandma I did that to this day she still influences my flavors and baking.

  Happy New Year, to one and all.

 (And a special thank you to my family for bearing with me while I went overboard to photograph a cake with my sister-in-law's wonderful new camera. Incidentally, photo credit to Mercedes Brandt for a few of these snapshots. <3)

Lingonberry Cream Buckwheat Torte (Heidjertorte)
Yield: one 8 or 9-inch torte

Ingredients for the torte:
  • softened unsalted butter, for greasing
  • 6 eggs at room temperature, separated into yolks and whites
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tbsp hot water
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • A splash of vanilla extract
  • 1 cup + 2 tbsp scooped and leveled buckwheat flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder

For the filling:
  • 1 1/2 cups whipping cream, chilled
  • 2 tsp granulated sugar
  • Dash of vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups lingonberry preserves

For topping:
  • 2 1/4 cups whipping cream, chilled
  • 2 tsp granulated sugar
  • Extra lingonberry preserves for decoration (optional)
  • Sugared cranberries and/or rosemary (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch/23cm springform pan with butter, line the bottom with parchment and butter the parchment as well.

Place the egg yolks, the 3⁄4 cup sugar and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or a large mixing bowl with a handmixer fitted with a whisk attachment or regular beaters); turn the motor on to medium-high. Beat to combine then slowly add the hot water and beat for 5 minutes. 
In a separate, very clean bowl, whip the egg whites and salt with an electric mixer until the egg whites hold stiff peaks. Mix the buckwheat flour and baking powder together and sift over the egg yolk mixture. Fold in until well combined. Then fold the whipped egg whites into the batter until no white streaks remain.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and place the pan in the oven on a baking sheet. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the top is pale golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Remove the pan from oven and let cool completely on a rack before removing the springform ring. Gently turn the cake upside down to remove the pan bottom and parchment paper. You can turn the cake right side up again, or leave it upside down as the bottom creates a nice, flat surface for the top of the torte.

Place 1 1⁄2 cups whipping cream and sugar in a large, clean bowl and beat until soft peaks form. Fold in the lingonberry preserves and vanilla. Slice the cake into thirds horizontally. Spread the bottom layer evenly with half of the lingonberry cream. Place the middle layer on top. Spread that layer with the remaining lingonberry cream. Top with the top layer. Chill in the fridge while you whip the remaining cream.

In a separate, large clean bowl, whip the remaining 2 1/4 cups of cream with the 2 teaspoons of sugar until stiff peaks form. Frost the top and sides of the torte with the whipped cream, reserving about 1 cup in a piping bag fitted with your decorating tip of choice for the garnish. Chill cake and pastry bag in the fridge for 10 minutes.

Pipe rosettes or whatever decoration you like with the remaining whipped cream. Decorate as desired with lingonberry preserves, sugared cranberries, etc.

Refrigerate the torte for at least 6 hours and up to 24 hours before serving. Remove the cake from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving it.

Sources: adapted from Taste, originally from Classic German Baking


Soft Frosted Sugar Cookies {Christmas Style}

   I'm sitting in a dirty laundromat spending a good chunk of my day off making sure that I have clean clothes for a few solid weeks. There's an old dude that keeps coughing and producing some crazy vocal yawns that at first sounded like some kind of a stroke. After the 50th one, it's not as startling. 

  Towards the front we have the homeless crew that frequent this place during colder times. They cycle from going in and outside, filling the place with the scent of old cigarettes. I'm perched in the middle of everything with my laptop on my lap, watching colorful loads twirl around in the wall of dryers. Some people have paperbacks and newspapers to pass the time, others just sit on their phones or stare at the running machines. 

  It has been somewhat difficult, lately, trying to find the positives. Whether I'm in an uncomfortable laundromat, or sitting at home surrounded by treats and comfort. I let down a mentor of mine a couple of weeks ago, and I didn't realize how much of an impact that would have on my mentality and daily work life. But it has been hard, and at the end of each work week I have come out slightly worse for wear.

  There are some life lessons here I'm sure, and I'll probably figure out what they are once my head and heart stop ringing from the guilt and extreme dip in my self esteem. I'm a baker, I really believe that. But how do you keep believing that when you've all but self-sabotaged what could be your career?

  Times like these I don't do well sitting still. Hence the laundry and chores on my days off, hence the pile of cookies sitting in front of you.

  I'm not usually much for proverbs, but idle hands and whatnot are pretty true for me when I'm feeling blue. So odds are that you'll be seeing some projects on here in the next few weeks. There's a positive, right?

  I made these babies for the first time back in 2011, which I'm now realizing is very close to 8 years ago. 15-year-old Ellen was still learning a lot of ropes, and these cookies came out pretty haphazard. The frosting was more of a glaze, and I didn't realize how little these spread while baking--so they were more lumps than cookies. Additionally, my photography skills consisted of placing a tupperware full of cookies on our bright blue kitchen floor and thinking that was pretty artsy (it was not).

  But, I mean, if I haven't learned to laugh at myself at this point--I'm in big trouble.

  So while I'm pinching pennies and desperately trying not to screw up cakes and breads and pies at work, I'll be here letting loose. Yeah, this time around I remembered to press these cookies closer to what I wanted for their finished shape. And yeah, the frosting got a little too thin again, but would you look at that pine green color?

  These cookies are a guilty pleasure for me, modeled after those big soft cookies you see in every grocery store bakery with varying seasonal sprinkles/frostings. I've yet to make a homemade version of a guilty pleasure I didn't like, and these are no exception. Thank you to Hostess with the Mostess for giving us easy access to giant frosted sugar cookies, it was the baking therapy I needed last week.

Soft Frosted Sugar Cookies
Yield: about a dozen large cookies

Ingredients for the cookies:
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4+1/8 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Ingredients for the frosting:
  • 2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 2 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 2-3 tbsp. milk (plus more, as needed)
  • Food coloring (optional)
  • Sprinkles (optional)

To make the cookies, in a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt, and whisk together to blend. In the bowl of an electric mixer or with a hand mixer, combine the butter and sugar and beat together on medium-high speed until soft and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed. Blend in the vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients mixing just until incorporated and evenly mixed. Cover and chill the dough for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. 

When you are ready to bake the cookies, scoop a scant quarter cup of dough and roll into a ball.  Flatten the ball into a thick disc with your hands, getting it pretty close to what you want your end cookie to look like. Place on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough, spacing the cookies at least 2-3 inches apart. Bake about 10-12 minutes or just until the edges start to firm and the centers appear just set. (Do not overbake! The edges should be no more than very lightly browned if at all.)  Let cool on the baking sheet for several minutes to complete cooking.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To frost the cookies, place the confectioners’ sugar in a medium bowl. Add the melted butter, vanilla, and milk to the bowl and whisk until smooth. Whisk in additional milk as necessary, 1 teaspoon at a time, until you reach your desired consistency. Tint with food coloring if desired. Use an offset spatula or spoon to frost the cooled cookies. (If the frosting begins to thicken as you decorate, just continue to whisk in small amounts of milk to keep it workable.) Top with sprinkles if desired.  Store in an airtight container.

Sources: found on and adapted from Everyday Annie, originally from Hostess with the Mostess