The Ambition Bird

I’ve been having trouble sleeping for the past few nights.

It happens sometimes, when i’m not aware that something is on my mind, or when I am 🙂 I always liked to stay awake when everyone else was asleep. Have you ever read Tom’s Midnight Garden? It’s a children’s book from the 1950’s that my mum got for me when I was about 11, about a young boy who goes to stay with his aunt and uncle, and discovers that he can enter a beautiful Victorian garden whenever the grandfather clock strikes 13 at midnight. He befriends a young girl called Hatty, in this midnight garden, and whenever he goes back it’s at a different time, and she gets older. The whole book has a strange and lovely, almost ethereal feel to it. I guess that’s that feeling I get from being awake late at night, when everyone else is asleep. A feeling like dark blue. Everything is quiet, it’s when I’m at my most productive. At university I would stay up to write essays until 7am, although I’m not very good at sleeping during the day to catch up on sleep afterwards. So it’s not very sustainable 🙂 Now, with a 9:30am-6pm job, I’ve gotten better at going to bed early. But it’s different when you’re unable to sleep because your head is buzzing with thoughts, and your heart is beating fast and loud in your ears.

A few nights ago I was looking through a book of poems by Anne Sexton. I love Anne Sexton. She writes some of the most honest things I’ve ever read. And also really beautiful, in the way that truth and honesty can be. Not very polished, but raw.

Anyways, this one is called The Ambition Bird. It sprang back into my mind last night, as I couldn’t sleep.

It goes:

 

So it has come to this —
insomnia at 3:15 A.M.,
the clock tolling its engine

like a frog following
a sundial yet having an electric
seizure at the quarter hour.

The business of words keeps me awake.
I am drinking cocoa,
that warm brown mama.

I would like a simple life
yet all night I am laying
poems away in a long box.

It is my immortality box,
my lay-away plan,
my coffin.

All night dark wings
flopping in my heart.
Each an ambition bird.

The bird wants to be dropped
from a high place like Tallahatchie Bridge.

He wants to light a kitchen match
and immolate himself.

He wants to fly into the hand of Michelangelo
and come out painted on a ceiling.

He wants to pierce the hornet’s nest
and come out with a long godhead.

He wants to take bread and wine
and bring forth a man happily floating in the Caribbean.

He wants to be pressed out like a key
so he can unlock the Magi.

He wants to take leave among strangers
passing out bits of his heart like hors d’oeuvres.

He wants to die changing his clothes
and bolt for the sun like a diamond.

He wants, I want.
Dear God, wouldn’t it be
good enough to just drink cocoa?

I must get a new bird
and a new immortality box.
There is folly enough inside this one.

I guess I’m digesting the year that was, and feeling more thin-skinned as the year rounds off. Things are resurfacing, or surfacing, thoughts about the past, and the future. Sometimes I think how beautiful it would be to only think about the now. But then where would we be 🙂

And yet. Wouldn’t it be
good enough to just drink cocoa?

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Chocolate Toffee Sauce

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I made this sauce by accident. But what a beautiful accident it was. It’s thick and drizzly, perfectly speckled with tiny bits of dark chocolate that melt on your tongue a moment after the toffee sauce does.

To my great dismay, some of the Christmas presents I ordered never arrived (they finally arrived today!). Not wanting to get the person something else, since I really wanted to get them this specific thing, very late on December 23rd (so late, in fact, that it was almost the 24th), I had the idea of trying my hand at chewy chocolate toffees.

Not owning a sugar thermometer I decided to eye-ball it, and after happily watching my mixture of sugar, syrup, cream and dark chocolate bubble away for what seemed like nearly an hour, I decided the mixture must surely be close to soft-ball stage (even though when I poured some into a glass of cold water it didn’t really form the malleable ball it was supposed to, which I decided might be because of the chocolate I’d added, and not because the mixture wasn’t actually the desired temperature yet), and poured it into my baking parchment-lined pan. The next morning I awoke to a glorious pan of thick chocolate toffee sauce, which was hard to get too annoyed about.

So I made my brother an I’m-sorry-your-present-didn’t-get-delivered-in-time-for-Christmas mug (like this!), and spooned the toffee sauce into a sterilised jar. That jar is now happily sitting in my fridge, one third emptier than on the 24th because I had a friend over for dinner last night, and we heated some up and poured it over vanilla ice cream (*smacks lips happily*).

(Accidental) Chocolate Toffee Sauce
Slightly and accidentally adapted from chocolat.dk
Yield: one large jar. Keeps for about 3 days at room temperature, and several weeks in the fridge (my guestimate is 4-6 weeks, but I’ll test this and get back to you!).

  • 200 g sugar
  • 100 g golden syrup
  • 400 ml heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 50 g dark chocolate, chopped

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, mix cream, syrup, sugar and salt, and bring to a boil.

Let it boil away at medium heat until the caramel begins to get more golden and thick. Now and then give the mixture a stir.

Add your chopped chocolate, and keep on letting the caramel boil, giving it a good stir now and then, to mix in the chocolate.

After about 20 minutes, when the mixture is starting to thicken but is still quite liquid (indeed, before it reaches a temperature of 120°C (248°F/soft-ball stage), pour into a sterilised jar and allow to cool at room temperature before keeping in the fridge to use however you please (over ice cream, in cupcakes, or simply eaten by the spoonful). Straight out of the fridge I think it could even be eaten as a kind of chocolate-caramel spread on bread. For use over ice cream, blitz it in the microwave for just a few seconds, to make it ever so slightly less thick, or allow to come to room temperature, before drizzling over the ice cream.

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* Should you wish to make the actual toffees, let your mixture reach 120°C, then pour into a pan lined with baking parchment (about 15×25 cm) and let cool over night at room temperature, covered in tin foil. Once cooled, cut into little squares, and sprinkle with flaky sea salt.

🎄⛄️Farmors Brunkager ⛄️🎄

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Today was my last working day of 2015 (yay!!!!), and tomorrow (the 23rd) is lillejuleaften, as we say in Danish – little Christmas Eve 🙂 For Danes, that’s when the Christmas celebrations really  begin. As in, we start making the food, and things get serious. Serious eating, serious drinking, serious Christmassing.

We’re spending Christmas at my parents’, who just moved house and are living in a maze of opened and unopened boxes. The kitchen came several weeks too late and is still being installed, and the Christmas tree has yet to be decorated (gasp) – so things promise to get a little bit chaotic!

But let’s worry about that tomorrow 🙂 Tonight there’s still time for me to finish my Christmas baking, which I am seriously behind on. But that’s all I have planned for tonight – baking, baking, baking! So Christmas is saved, at least on the cookie front 😉

I made brunkager last year as well and really loved them, but decided to try another recipe this year, for three reasons: whilst most recipes for these little Christmas cookies use dark syrup, last year I used light syrup. Moreover, last year’s recipe produced a very thin and melt-in-your-mouth cookie, which, although delicious, was not the classic brunkage-texture I was after. And finally, the dough was a bit finicky, and this year I’m just not having any of that. I loved them and will definitely make them again, but they were not like a ‘true’ brunkage, which is very thin, but also super crunchy, and very dark, not all that sweet (but just sweet enough).

I wasn’t going to make any this year, but then I stumbled upon a recipe by a favourite Danish dessert-blogger of mine, Anne au Chocolat, in a little e-magazine for a Danish brand, to which she’d contributed a few recipes. I took a screen shot but lost the link, which I guess doesn’t much matter, as long as the recipe is intact 🙂

What prompted me to try it is the fact that it’s super simple and quick. Moreover, ‘farmor’ means grandma, which led me to believe this would indeed produce a very traditional brunkage. And it did 🙂 Thin and crisp, dark  and ‘mollasses-y’ from the syrup, fragrant with cloves and cinnamon and studded with slivers of almond – this is a true brunkage. And really quick to make, which I think is always an plus during the December rush.

The recipe said to bake them for 8-10 minutes, but I ended up burning several batches this way, and finally settled on 5-6 minutes. My oven runs pretty hot, but it’s important not to bake these at too low a heat, or they don’t get as crispy-crunchy as they should. This is not a soft and chewy cookie. As they’re quite dark and fragrant, it’s important that they not bake for too long, they need to bake JUST until they begin to darken – and then, as soon as they’ve crisped up on the baking sheet for a few minutes out of the oven, they should be transferred to a cooling rack. Anyways, they’re quick to make, and taste like Danish Christmas to me 🙂 and my mum loves them, so I had to make them. I’ve included the quantities for cups and ounces below, but this recipe is definitely best to make using kitchen scales, as the conversion from grams doesn’t yield round numbers.

Wishing everyone a happy end of the year and a Merry Christmas, see you in 2016! 😊

❄Farmors brunkager❄
Yield: about 80 little cookies

  • 125 g butter (1.1 stick/0.55 cup), softened
  • 85 g (3 ounces/0.43 cup) sugar
  • 125 g (90 ml/2/5 cup) dark syrup
  • 200 g (1 3/5 cups) flour
  • 3/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • a big pinch of salt
  • 50 g (1/3 cup) roughly chopped almonds, or store-bought almond slivers

In a big bowl, mix together the butter, sugar and dark syrup. If your butter is soft enough, a hand whisk or spatula should do.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, spices, salt and baking soda. Mix this into the butter mixture with a silicone spatula until just combined, then mix in the almond slivers or chopped almonds (although home-blanched/-chopped almonds will produce a better ‘bite’, I used store-bought ones this time, which are thin slivers, rather than chunky. Next year I might chop up some whole, blanched almonds though, I think, as I like the added texture it lends to the cookies 🙂 ).

The dough will be super sticky. On a lightly floured chopping board, and with floured hands, grab a chunk of the dough and, as swiftly as you can in order to avoid the need for more flour, roll it into a log about 3,5-4 cm (a little over an inch) wide. There shouldn’t be any flour visible. Place a piece of kitchen film on top, and wrap the dough, using the kitchen film to shape it into a nice log, patting the ends somewhat flat. Place on a clean chopping board, and repeat with the rest of the dough. You should have two or three little logs. Place in the fridge over night.

Preheat your oven to 200°C/400°F.

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Slice the logs thinly, about 2-3 mm, and place on a non-stick baking sheet. Bake for 5-6 minutes, keeping a close watch on the cookies during the last minute. They should begin to brown along the edges, but be careful to take them out of the oven before they get too dark.

Let them cool for a minute or two on the baking sheet, then transfer to a cooling rack.

As soon as they cookies have cooled completely, place them in a cookie tin (they get soft quite quickly if you leave them out too long!).

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The cookies keep for several weeks in a cookie tin, if not eaten 🙂

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🌲⛄Thumbprint Cookies and Jødekager⛄🌲

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I wasn’t completely ready for it to be Christmas this year, to be honest. I feel as though the past year just whizzed by, and wasn’t it just Christmas 2014? But then the last week of November rolled around, and I started to feel the tingle of anticipation creeping up on me. Last weekend we decorated my flat, and I bought a ridiculous amount of fairy lights.

So my Christmas excitement is once more alive and well, and I’m not even going to apologise for the explosion of snowflakes, Christmas trees, candy cane hearts, and snow men on this page. The fairy lights are up and the baking has begun.

Although I’m generally very much against fussy recipes, for some reason most of the Christmas cookie recipes I grew up with, and HAVE to make each year because I love them, are all a bit finicky. But a few weeks back I stumbled across the easiest, and no less delicious for it, Christmas cookie recipe. It’s even versatile. It’s most definitely going to be part of the annual Christmas cookie baking bonanza, and I may or may not have eaten a few dozen of them already.

These super moorish little thumbprint cookies are kind of like a shortbread cookie, but a little lighter (because of the baking soda), tender and crunchy at the same time, with a lovely little jammy centre 🙂 I used raspberry jam, and it was perfect, these cookies definitely need a slightly sour, or tart, sort of jam I think. I’m also going to try apricot, and maybe also some lemon curd. I think these would be killer with homemade lemon curd.

The first time I made this cookie dough I only made the thumbprint cookies, but the texture of the cookie made me think the dough would also be perfect for Danish jødekager (‘jødekager’, which translates as Jewish cakes, purportedly got their name because they resembled a type of cookie/biscuit that was traditionally sold in Jewish bakeries and shops in Copenhagen a few hundred years back), a crispy little cookie with cinnamon sugar and chopped almonds on top. I make these every year, each time using a different recipe because I can never find one I’m completely satisfied with. Until now, that is 🙂 I made some last year that I thought were perfectly lovely, but these are so much better, and so much quicker to make since there’s no faffing about with rolling pins and cookie cutters (even if I LOVE my cookie cutters – and my friend recently gave me a dinosaur-shaped one that I have yet to use!). I brought them to the office glühwein (or ‘gløgg’, in Danish) party this Thursday, and they all disappeared even though the table was almost completely covered in Christmas goodies, and I ended up taking about half of the thumbprint cookies back home with me (not a problem, they have now vanished). I think these would also make for really lovely snickerdoodles, were they to be rolled entirely in cinnamon sugar, and flattened slightly less than you would to make the jødekage-variation.

To make the jødekager, follow the instructions beneath the thumbrint cookie recipe. To make both, use half of the dough for the thumbprint cookies, and half for the jødekager (or however you want to split it, should you want to make both variations).

❄Thumbprint Christmas Cookies❄
Adapted slightly from Epicurious – makes about 4 dozen little cookies

  • 225 (1 cup/2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 150 g (3/4 cup) sugar
  • 310 g (2 1/2 cups) flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • about 1/2 cup/120 ml jam
  • Icing sugar for dusting (optional)

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar together on medium until nice and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla extract, beating for another minute or so.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda (I don’t always have the patience for sifting, and whisking the ingredients together with a hand whisk usually means it’s ok to skip this step).

Add the dry ingredients to the wet, mixing with a silicone spatula until everything is just combined. I use my hands to press it together at the end.

Ideally, cover the dough and let it sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. I didn’t do this for the first batch though, and they were fine.

Roll little 1½ cm / ½-inch balls of dough between your hands, and distribute evenly on a non-stick baking tray, leaving at least a few cm between the cookies. Don’t make them too big, as they will expand slightly, and the bigger they are, the more they’ll spread out. You want it somewhere around the size of an unshelled hazelnut, if that makes sense! The original recipe calls for them to be a little bit bigger, about twice the size of mine, but I prefer them smaller, as I find that the bigger ones expand too much and make for a less satisfying cookie-to-jam ratio.

Press a nice, deep indentation into each cookie – I find it easiest to use my pinkie or ring finger, holding the cookie steady between the thumb and index fingers with one hand, and pressing down into the cookie with the pinkie finger of the other hand, giving it a little wiggle to gently expand the hole. Scoop about 1/4 tsp of jam into each ‘thumbprint’, just enough so that it peaks out from the indentation.

Bake for about 10 minutes at 175°C/350°F, taking them out when the edges begin to brown a bit. Let cool on the baking sheet for about 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. While one baking sheet is cooling, roll more little cookies out, place them onto a second baking sheet, make the thumbprint/fill with jam, and bake. Repeat this rotation about 4-5 times, until you run out of dough, each time letting the baking sheet cool before you place the fresh batch of unbaked cookies on it.

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Dust lightly with icing sugar, if desired 🙂 keep the cookies in a cookie tin, separated by layers of baking parchment.

Jødekager

  • One/one half portion of the cookie dough above
  • Cinnamon sugar (I just mix unprocessed cane sugar with ground cinnamon in a cup, I don’t really measure!)
  • 25 g whole almonds, blanched and chopped roughly

Blanch the almonds: pour boiling water over them in a small bowl, cover them, and leave them for about 10 minutes, whilst the skins loosen. Then pour out the hot water, and squeeze the almonds out of their skins. Chop chop chop them up roughly.

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Shape the cookie dough into little balls, about the size of an unshelled hazelnut/1-1½ cm in diameter. Place them on an ungreased, non-slip cookie sheet. Press the cookies flat with the ball of your hand, so they’re about 2-3 mm thick. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar on top in a sort of stripe through the middle, then press a few bits of almond on top. Bake for about 9 minutes 175°C/350°F, until they only just begin to brown around the edges. Let cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

The thumbprint cookies keep for a bit more than a week, but are best the first two days, after which they tend to get a bit stale and the jam loses it’s glossy sparkle. I’m thinking I may try to make them thinner, and coat the thumbprint in egg wash next time, this might allow for the cookies to keep for a bit longer without going stale (the thickness of the cookie, along with the moistness of the jam means that the cookie loses it’s ‘crunch’ after a few days).

I suspect the jødekager keep for much longer, since they’re crispier and don’t have the jam moistness ‘issue’. But I will report back 🙂

FYI – this dough is actually best used at room temperature, or it ‘cracks’ around the edges when you smush it down. If your dough is fridge-cold and you don’t have time to let it sit, I would roll it out into a log, and cut it as finely as possible, with a sharp, thin knife (for the jødekager, that is, for the thumbprint cookies it’s not a huge problem as you don’t need to flatten them quite as much). The dough will keep in the fridge for several days, but is easiest to work with on the day it’s made (and since it’s so quick to make, this isn’t really an issue, in my mind 🙂 ).

I’m also thinking of making these with nutella or something similar. Or maybe a dark chocolate variety, although they’d lack the chewiness of the jam, once cooked. Ooh, and I also think a tart cherry jam would be really lovely with these!

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Carrot Cupcakes with Lemon-Orange Frosting

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I first tried making these moreish little cakes about a month ago. They’re super moist (‘dejligt svampede ‘, as my Danish colleague said, which translates roughly into ‘nice and mushy’ – which appeared to be a good thing).

(Side note: I’ve stopped freaking out about the word moist – am I alone in that? Most people get really bummed out at the mention of the word, but I say we take it back, because it’s so useful when describing cake. I mean, what alternatives are there, really, to describe cake that isn’t dry? ‘Wet’ certainly won’t do. Neither will ‘damp’. ‘Squishy’? I really don’t think so. I say we reclaim ‘moist’, at the very least for baking purposes. End of side note.)

Aaanyways, these are super moist, super quick to make, and super easy to eat. And who doesn’t love carrot cake? I really don’t know.

The first time I made them it was without frosting, as I’m really not a fan of cream cheese frosting, and I personally think that carrot cake is so delicious on its own that it really doesn’t need any frosting to begin with. I know that to many this is a slightly controversial statement, and I know a lot of people go mad for cream cheese frosting, but… meh! I don’t know, it just doesn’t do anything for me. And neither does buttercream frosting, I find it a bit off-putting and not all that interesting-tasting… BUT – on this particular Sunday, feeling adventurous, I decided to google ‘alternatives to cream cheese frosting’, and came upon an orange frosting that uses a little bit of butter, but not enough to be off-putting to me (don’t get me wrong, I LOVE butter in cake, and on fresh bread or toast, but I just can’t see the appeal when it’s mixed into sugar and milk and vanilla, in an unbaked form…). While I really liked the orange frosting, I still didn’t find it tangy enough, so I added some fresh lemon juice, and lo and behold, it turned into a lemon-orange frosting delight! At least I think so 🙂 And my colleagues seemed to really enjoy them when I brought them into work! Though they do tend to be rather forgiving whatever type of (more or less successfully) baked good I bring in, they were especially vocal about these ones. I’ll test the few ones that are left on my friends later today.

I also decided to forego the ginger in the original recipe this time around, and upped the cinnamon content slightly – although I love ginger, I prefer my carrot cake to be a little more on the cinnamon-nutmeg side 🙂 I also swapped part of the sugar for brown sugar, I’m not sure whether I’ll do this next time, but it does add a bit of ‘oomph’. And finally, while I personally don’t think they need any frosting,
it doesn’t hurt, and this one is dreamy, adds a lovely tang and off-sets the spices in the cake nicely. If you are a die-hard fan of cream cheese frosting, I’m 100% sure the original maple cream cheese frosting from smitten kitchen will more than do the job! And if you’re into something in between a thick glaze and a buttercream frosting with a nice zing of lemon juice and orange zest, then do give this one a go 🙂

Carrot Cupcakes with Lemon-Orange Frosting
Adapted slightly from smittenkitchen

  • 250 g (2 cups) flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 300 g (1 1/2 cups) sugar
  • 100 g (1/2 cup) brown sugar
  • 300 ml (1 1/4 cup) olive oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 cups finely grated carrots
  • (optional: 100 g/1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts)

Line your cupcake pans with cupcake liners, and preheat your oven to 175°C/350°F.

Peel and finely grate your carrots, and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and oil until well blended. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking well.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and baking soda. Stir the mixture into the wet ingredients, followed by the grated carrots (and nuts, if using). Scoop the batter into the muffin tins, filling the cupcake liners about 3/4.

Bake them for about 15-20 minutes, until a tooth pick comes out clean. These are almost impossible to over-bake, but you don’t want them to burn on top. I do, however, find that it’s best to err on the side of 20 minutes, to make sure the cakes aren’t too wet at the bottom (they really are extremely moist). It’s also a good idea to turn your pan around halfway through baking, to ensure the cupcakes rise evenly, and not more on one side than the other.

Let cool for five minutes in the pan, then transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely before frosting.

Lemon-Orange Frosting
Adapted from be-ro

  • 50 g (2 ounces) butter, melted
  • zest of half an orange
  • 2 tbsp (30 ml) freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1-2 tbsp (15-30 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste
  • 225 g icing sugar

Beat together the melted butter, orange and lemon juice, orange zest and icing sugar, beating for a good 5 minutes or so, until the mixture becomes light and airy, and has a spreadable consistency. Set aside until the cupcakes have cooled completely, then add little dollops to each cake, spreading it out with a knife.

Makes 24-28 little cupcakes, depending on the size of your cupcake liners.