Making marzipan for the almond prize

It’s a rainy Boxing Day in Rome, but I had a nice long walk earlier. Armed with my police declaration form, I walked around the very quiet neighborhood. No police spotted, but lots of people with strollers and dogs. We are having a very nice Christmas, all things considered. It’s hard not being home, but interesting to see Rome this time of the year. The fresh pasta shop downstairs had massive lines (socially distanced) the last days before the 25th, with time slots to collect pasta orders. They had two small refrigerated trucks to store all the orders. Trays of tortellini, ravioli, mmm…… I collected my order of two small lasagnas, on Christmas Eve morning: one with salmon, and one amatriciana (tomato, guanciale). We are technically allowed two guests a day, but are being careful, so very little socializing now and the fridge has been stuffed (as have we).

On Christmas Eve one friend came over and we had a lovely evening. Bramble gin cocktails and smoked salmon paté (super easy, great recipe from the Guardian). Then Norwegian pinnekjøtt with mushy peas, red cabbage, potatoes, Christmas-spiced meatballs and Canadian meatpies with chutney. We never even made it to dessert (riskrem) or coffee and cookies. However, yesterday we had a bracing walk and an afternoon watching “Miracle on 34th Street” and managed to make a dent in the Christmas cookies. We made shepherds pie with leftovers, and finally had the riskrem.

Traditionally many Norwegians have risengrynsgrøt (rice porridge) on Christmas Eve, served warm with cinnamon, butter and sugar. A blanched almond is hidden in the porridge, and whoever finds it wins a small marzipan pig. The cold leftover porridge is mixed with whipped cream to made riskrem for dessert the same day, served with red cherry sauce, sometimes with a new almond added and a new marzipan pig prize (there were a lot of small children to keep entertained……). Here in Italy, they grow beautiful almonds and Sicily is famous for amazing marzipan. But could I fins any marzipan in Rome? No. Well, I only tried my neighbourhood, but eight shops later I gave up and made my own marzipan. Really not that hard.

Marzipan

  • 250 gr blanched almonds
  • 250 gr icing sugar
  • 1 raw eggwhite

If you need to blanch the almonds, do it the day before so they dry. I have a small manual almond grinder but a food processor would work too. Grind the almonds once alone, then mix with the icing sugar and grind again. Keep some of the dry mix aside ad you may not need it all, that depends on the size of your eggwhite (I had maybe 1/3 cup extra, it will be used in some dessert soon.) Add the eggwhite and knead firmly until you get a smooth firm paste. Voila! Homemade marzipan!

We have some silicon sheep molds crafted by my husband, and pressed the fresh marzipan into them.

Wrap well or stick in a plastic bag) and store in fridge, invert when needed and serve to the lucky almond-finder. This made plenty of marzipan, next time I would scale it down to 100 gr almonds. But the extra marzipan is now safely stored in the freezer labeled XMAS 2020 in case I have an urgent marzipan need.

I hope you are all having a good Boxing Day!

Bordstabelbakkels (Norwegian table stacking cookies)

There is something about not being home for Christmas that had me looking up some very retro recipes this year. I made fruit cake, and four kinds of krumkaker : regular, glutenfree, and two kinds of glutenfree + vegan. I made strull, which look like cylindric krumkaker but have sour cream instead of eggs (that was a bit of a disaster, report to follow). I made brune pinner, dark cinnamon-flavoured cookies, and coconut macaroons. I baked and baked. However, there were a few issues: I love to bake, but really no not need the calories. And yes, we enter Christmas lockdown in Italy tomorrow. Also, fragile crisp Norwegian cookies do not do well in the humid Roman winter. Some went soft! (I rebaked them briefly.) So today, facing a looming tower of cookie tins in the kitchen, I went for a lovely long walk and dropped off cookie bags for a few friends, with distance maintained and no socializing. From tomorrow we will need to fill in a police declaration form to leave the house, so it was nice to get out. No complaints about the lockdown though, it is only ten days.

Avoid receiving guests, says the sign. Well, we go into lockdown but it it is not super-strict. Receiving two guests a day is allowed, though we have no plans for that. We will have a very quiet Christmas, which is fine. One friend will come over tomorrow, and we will have a lovely time. The fridge is full, we have Christmas movies to watch, and family zoom calls are planned. I still have a LOT of Christmas cookies left, including these almost unpronounceable bordstabelbakkels, which are roughly table-stack-small-bake. A shortbread base with an almond meringue layer, these should be stacked two and two. Nice with coffee.

Bordstabelbakkels

250 gr butter
250 gr white sugar
3 egg yolks
2 tbs cream
500 gr flour
pinch salt

Almond topping: 250 gr icing sugar, 250 gr scalded ground almonds, 3 eggwhites.

Separate the eggwhites and yolks. Whisk eggyolks with sugar, add cream. Then beat in soft butter and flour. Let the dough rest for at least an hour. Make the almond topping: whisk the eggwhites to light and fluffy, add sugar, then stir in almonds. (I have an old almond grinder, a food processor would work too: not too fine when grinding the nuts though.) Add a little water if the mass is too thick for your piping bag.

Roll the dough out thin, cut rectangles of a consistent size. I was aiming for 3×10 cm, but as the dough got warmer and stickier, my standards slipped. Pipe on the topping (or spoon it in, as I did when the piping bag split by tray four). Bake at 170C for 7-9 minutes. To serve, stack two and two like very delicate Jenga blocks.

Note: I made a fifth of these as a glutenfree batch for a friend, using separate bowls and glutenfree flour. Worked fine but they were very fragile, handle with care.

Merry Christmas to all!

Some local grafitti for the Italian speakers….

Making krumkaker

Pannetone gelato, anyone? It was actually quite nice. Normally by now we’d be heading off to London or Norway, this will be our first Christmas in Rome. It’s the sensible thing to do, though it’s hard not to see family. Hopefully next spring or summer we can go. Most friends are staying here, and we can still see people (max six gathered, though mixing households indoors is not recommended). Meeting outside is still possible, and cautious small gatherings can be done indoors. A few more days at work (well, working from home), then it’s time for Christmas movies and mulled wine, hopefully also some nice walks to counterbalance all the good food.

Traditionally Norwegians have seven kinds of cookies for Christmas. This is one of them: krumkaker, which means curved cake: like a waffle cone, but much better. I haven’t made them for ages, as I was in Ghana for four years, so this was a small trial batch. Outside Christmas, krumkaker are also nice alongside icecream (not as cones, but as cookies.)

Krumkaker

3 eggs
150 grammes white sugar
150 grammes plain wheat flour
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
150 grammes melted butter
One krumkake iron (mine is electric)
one krumkakepinne (wooden tool for rolling)

If needed: a few tablespoons of water to thin the batter

Melt butter and let it cool slightly. Whisk eggs and sugar until light and airy, then fold in the flour. Add cardamom. Stir in melted cooled butter. Leave to thicken for half an hour, and add a little water if too thick. (The batter here was left an hour while we had lunch, and the results were a little robust, despite adding 3 tbs of water. I’ll make them thinner next time. This batch will be gifts for friends.)

Heat your krumkake iron. There is no need to butter it, there is so much butter in the batter. Just a small dollop of batter is needed, this is meant to be very thin, with almost lacy edges. As soon as they are done (the light on the iron might indicate this), you roll quickly them on the krumkakepinne to make a cone. Cool them. Store carefully in an airtight box, they will be crispy and quite delicate.

My aunt makes strull, which are similar delicate cookies made in the same iron but with sour cream in the batter, and no eggs. Strull are rolled to cylinders, not cones. That might be fun to try as well. I need to have seven kinds of cookies for Christmas! Small batches are however the way to go, with limited chances to see friends. For some reason sour cream (panna acida) is much more readily available in Rome now than it was a few years ago, which is lovely. First, I will try to make some thinner krumkaker.

I have a vegan recipe for krumkaker to try soon, for a newly vegan glutenfree friend. I am not convinced (it involves mashed chickpeas) but will have a try. Vegan and glutenfree is challenging for Norwegian cookie recipes, but not impossible. Happy holiday countdown!