It’s snowing in Paris. Very unusual for November, I am told.
Paris is truly magical this time of year, especially with all the Christmas lights illuminating the whole city and Champs-Élysées- and now the recent addition of fresh white snow is literally the icing on the cake.
Here is a picture of the back garden in my apartment building in Paris- the two pics taken just 2 months apart.
Saying that, it’s bittersweet really- I mean the snow is beautiful, but the -4 degree temperatures can really take its toll. You can see how European traditions have developed over time to compensate for the long, hard winters, with simple pleasures in winter like copious amounts of cheese consumed in raclettes and fondues, warm spiced red wine, hearty soups and casseroles, and ‘Pain d’epice’ a sweet spiced bread served with traditional hot chocolate.
So, to celebrate my first white Christmas, keep the circulation going and prepare simple Christmas treats for friends and family, I am baking a big batch of Lebkuchen- it’s a kind of gingerbread, which originates from Switzerland and Germany with variations between regions. It’s made of molasses, brown sugar, honey, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Sometimes it has candied citrus, nuts and chocolate coating. Yum.
Now, you’re probably eager to hear what it has to do with Libido? Well ginger has a long-standing reputation for its powerful aphrodisiac qualities. A warm, pungent spice, that when combined with cloves (which has similar qualities), it warms the blood to increase circulation, aid digestion and increase metabolism. Perfect for the winter chill! Gingerbread’s popularity as a gift and aphrodisiac even dates back to medieval era when Knights would present shield-shaped pieces of gingerbread as love gifts to their ladies during jousting contests and tournaments. Embossed with cloves to resemble studs and painted with egg white to represent a polished shield, these love gifts were treasured and highly valuable possessions.
Anyway, I love this stuff and I make a huge batch of it every year with a recipe I’ve adapted over the years originally given to me by a German friend’s mother. It’s a one pot, one-bowl recipe so its quite simple to prepare, it’s completely fat free (of course the sugar content makes up for this) and it keeps for a few weeks in an airtight container so it makes a great Christmas gift when packaged and wrapped up nicely. You can add more or less spice depending on your preference- this version is quite strong.
You can cut the cookie dough into star, heart, Christmas tree, or round shapes- however you like. Or simply bake it in a flat, lipped tray, top it with the lemon glaze and slice it into squares. Sooooo good with a big cup of hot chai tea.
Happy (libido) baking!
Recipe: Lebkuchen (Swiss/German Gingerbread)
Makes approx 50-60 biscuits depending on size of moulds
1 cup honey
1 cup molasses/treacle
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
2 tablespoon lemon juice
4 tbsps candied orange finely chopped (optional)
5 1/2 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 teaspoon ground ginger
Royal icing (for piping and decoration)
1 1/2 cups (230g) pure icing sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
1 eggwhite, lightly whisked
Hard white icing/glaze
Prepare as instructed above for royal icing, but gradually add additional fresh lemon juice until it forms a smooth, spreadable paste for application with a plastic spatula or knife.
In a medium saucepan, stir together the honey and molasses. Bring the mixture to a boil, remove from heat for 10 mins and stir in the brown sugar, egg, lemon juice and candied citron. In a large bowl, sift and stir together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger.
Add the molasses mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well. You may need to gradually add extra flour until it makes a moist cookie dough as the consistency will depend on the flour, humidity etc.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets or baking trays.
Once combined, put bowl of cookie mix in the refrigerator until it has cooled to room temperature or lower.
Knead a few handfuls of dough at a time on a floured flat surface/bench and roll out the dough ready for the cookie cutters. Alternatively, Using a small amount of dough at a time, roll into small balls and press down to about 4cm diameter, OR roll out dough and place the mix into a rectangular baking tray with dough at approx 1 cm depth.
Cut out cookies using desired shapes and moulds and place onto greased trays.
Bake for 10-15 minutes in the preheated oven, until golden brown and fragrant. Be careful not to overcook the lebkuchen as the sugars will go too hard when they cool and the biscuits will lose the desired soft center.
Allow to cool completely before icing and decorating.
To make the icing hard (piping):
Sift the icing sugar into a small bowl. Add the lemon juice and enough of the eggwhite to form a firm paste. Place in a piping bag fitted with a 1mm nozzle. Pipe royal icing onto the biscuits. Allow to set for at least one hour.
For the spreadable hard icing glaze, simply add more lemon juice and apply with a knife or spatula.