The commotion about the fresh-fallen snow started in our house in the earliest hours of the morning. Kevin was the first one up since he had to go to work.
“Honey, it’s snowing outside,” he whispered in my ear at 4:30 a.m.
That same moment my eyes flew open, and I sat up in bed, most of my body and mind still asleep.
“Open the blinds please. Let me see,” I asked him.
And so for quite a while I just lay there, watching the swirling flakes quietly paint everything white.
At about seven I woke up my mom.
“Mom, it’s been snowing all night!” I elated.
She was just as thrilled.
As we were planning for the day over coffee, our loud voices must have awakened Nicole. I heard her patter towards us and then halt. It was our huge master bedroom window that drew her in.
“Mama, there’s snow outside?” she wondered, her voice soft and still sleepy.
It was a miracle to her.
I suppose going from blue skies and green grass (whatever shade of green it is in Reno at the end of December) to six inches of snow overnight may be called a miracle on many planes.
As I left for work, I knew what we would be doing later that day and for the rest of the week.
It is just darling to watch kids play in the snow. Their curiosity and ingenuity come through as they build, shape, taste, and observe. Shrieks of delight. Rosy cheeks. I often can’t help but join in the fun.
There’s hardly any stalling when I say it’s time to take a break and go inside. No snow day is quite complete without a mug of steaming hot chocolate and a couple cookies.
Dripping boots. Soaked mittens. All I can hear is just slurp, slurp.
Speaking of cookies, their season is still upon us as New Year’s festivities continue well into January. It’s quite customary in Russia and throughout Europe to bring something (meaning something sweet) for tea as people visit their relatives and friends for the first time in the new year.
Conversely, you are ought to have something (meaning something sweet) in your cupboard in case of an unexpected raid.
Reminded of the sweet tradition, I baked and decorated about 6 dozen cookies in two days. In theory, it is a one-day deal, but my work spread over two days only because I had to come up with raspberry jam thick enough to fill all those cookies.
The recipe for raspberry-vanilla bean jam that I shared with you earlier this year will not serve the purpose of a filler because of its thinner consistency. Check it out here.
I improvised with frozen raspberries as that was all I had on hand. And with great results, I must say. Although I recommend in my recipe that you wait at least 24 hours for jam to thicken and set, you may start using it as soon as it cools down. In a couple of hours.
I baked German Spitzbuben first.
I have the most heartwarming memories of a Christmas spent in Hamburg, Germany over a decade ago. Lights and Christmas markets everywhere. A feeling of joy and together-ness in the nippy air.
I remember as we strolled through Hamburger Weihnachtsmarkt one brisk night, my boyfriend at the time asked me if I would like a glass of glühwein to keep me warm.
“Yes, please, and something more substantial to help me walk straight after it,” I replied.
The Germans don’t skimp on the booze when they make their hot mulled wine.
We each had a glass of glühwein and a freshly grilled bratwurst in a sliced-open hard roll.
I don’t think I used any condiments on my sausage. I don’t even think I ate the bread.
It was just so delicious on its own.
Stalls and stalls of food. Tempting aromas. Clinking of glasses and beer mugs. Traditional German music playing. People talking happy and loud.
Stalls and stalls of handicrafts. From fresh advent wreaths and old-fashioned cuckoo clocks to intricately carved wooden Christmas decorations and blown glass ornaments.
These markets are a true reflection of the country’s culinary and craftwork traditions.
Before we left, we got some homemade Spitzbuben. Soft and crumbly, not too sweet, the cookies tasted of toasted hazelnuts. Or was it almonds? I couldn’t tell. A smear of raspberry jam. A hint of lemon.
I thought I had never had a tastier cookie before.
On the way home I kept scolding myself and my boyfriend for not asking the frau who sold them to us what nuts she’d folded into that dough.
While researching the basic recipe for Spitzbuben online, I stumbled across a beautiful article in Savior by Todd Coleman called Bavarian Dream. I thought the author hit home with the title alone.
That’s exactly how I feel about that one Christmas in Germany. So many years later it seems like a dream. Something I read in a book or saw in a movie. The only thing that may still testify to its factuality is the taste of these cookies that I tried to recreate.
Since I can’t recall which nuts were used in the original, I’ve included both almonds and hazelnuts in my version.
And pretty darn close.
Recipe for Olga’s Spitzbuben *
1. 15 ½ tablespoons (200 g) butter, softened
2. ½ cup (100 g) baker’s sugar
3. 3 duck egg yolks
4. 1 packet (5 g) powdered vanilla or 1teaspoon vanilla extract
5. Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
6. ½ cup (40 g) hazelnut meal/flour
7. 1 cup (100 g) almond meal/flour
8. 2 cups (220 g) high quality wheat flour, such as Jovial 100% organic einkorn flour
9. ½ cup (60 g) tapioca starch
For the Filling:
½ cup Olga’s Quicker than Quick Frozen Berry Jam (recipe follows)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting
1. In a large bowl, whisk together hazelnut meal, almond flour, all-purpose flour, and tapioca starch; set aside.
2. In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter on medium speed until creamy.
3. Add sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy.
4. Beat in yolks, one a time; stir in vanilla and lemon zest.
5. Gradually beat in flour mixture to form soft dough that doesn’t stick to your hands.
6. Shape dough into 2 disks and wrap each in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or as long as overnight.
7. Position rack in upper third of oven and preheat oven to 325°F.
8. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough out to 1/8-inch thickness. With a 2-inch round cookie cutter, cut out rounds, then use a star cutter to punch out centers on half the rounds.
9. Place rounds, 1 inch apart, on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake until lightly browned, 10-12 minutes, rotating sheet at halftime.
10. Repeat with remaining dough and dough scraps. Transfer cookies to wire racks to cool completely.
11. Stir lemon juice into jam. Dust cut-out cookies with confectioner’s sugar. Spoon ¼ teaspoon jam in center of each solid cookie; spread to within 1/3 inch of edge. Place cut-out cookies on top of jam-topped cookies.
12. Store, layered between sheets of wax paper, in airtight container for up to 1 week.
Makes about 4 dozen cookies
Recipe for Olga’s Hazelnut Thumbprints **
1. ½ cup (1 stick or 113 g) butter, softened
2. ¼ cup (50 g) firmly packed dark brown sugar
3. 1 duck egg yolk
4. 1 packet (5 g) powdered vanilla or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5. ½ cup (40 g) hazelnut meal/flour
6. ¾ cup (82 g) high quality wheat flour, such as Jovial 100% organic einkorn flour
7. 1/3 cup (30 g) Chardonnay grape seed flour
8. ¼ cup plus 1tablespoon (50 g) potato starch
9. ¼ salt
For the Drizzle and Filling:
½ cup (55 g) confectioner’s sugar
½ to 1 cup Olga’s Quicker than Quick Frozen Berry Jam (recipe follows)
¼ cup (60 ml) heavy cream
4 ounces (110 g) semi-sweet chocolate chips
Finely chopped hazelnuts
Fleur de sel or other sea salt
1. In a medium size bowl, whisk together hazelnut meal, both flours, starch, and salt; set aside.
2. Position rack in upper third of oven and preheat oven to 350°F.
3. In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in yolk and vanilla until combined.
4. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture, beating on low speed just until combined.
5. Gather dough together. Add another ½ to 1 tablespoon potato starch if dough is sticky.
6. Shape dough into 1-inch balls and place 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Using your thumb, make an indentation in center of each cookie.
7. Bake 10-12 minutes or until edges are lightly browned, rotating sheet at halftime. If indentation puffs up during baking, re-press with bowl of a measuring teaspoon.
8. Transfer to wire rack and let cool.
9. In a small bowl, stir confectioner’s sugar and 1 ½ to 2 teaspoons water until smooth. Transfer to a small plastic bag. Snip one corner from bag; drizzle over top of cookies. Let dry. Once dry, fill centers with ¼ to ½ teaspoon jam.
10. To make ganache filling, place chocolate chips in a small heatproof bowl; set aside. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring cream to a boil. Pour over chocolate chips and let sit 1 minute. Stir until completely smooth. Fill indentation of each cookie with ½ to 1 teaspoon of ganache filling, sprinkle with finely chopped hazelnuts and fleur de sel. Let sit until set, about 1 hour.
Makes 1 dozen cookies
Recipe for Olga’s Original Quicker than Quick Frozen Berry Jam ***
1. 2 cups crushed frozen raspberries (I used a mix of frozen black and red raspberries from Jacobs Family Berry Farm)
2. 2 cups (270 g) lightly packed brown sugar
3. 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
4. ¼ teaspoon butter, optional
5. 2 tablespoons fruit pectin (I used MCP premium fruit pectin)
1. Lay berries out in a single layer to thaw for 20-30 minutes.
2. In a small bowl, combine sugar with vanilla bean and seeds; set aside.
3. With a potato masher, crush berries slightly and transfer to a medium-sized, heavy pot.
4. Stir pectin into fruit. Add butter to reduce foaming and help jam stay glossy.
5. Bring mixture to full rolling boil on high heat, stirring constantly.
6. Stir in sugar quickly. Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; discard vanilla bean.
7. Pour into prepared containers. Let stand at room temperature 24 hours until set. Keep refrigerated.
Makes 1 one-pint jar
1. * and ** and *** developed at an altitude of 4500 feet above sea level