A Visit to the Christmas Markets

I mentioned Christmas markets in some comments last week and several people asked me to share some photos. I do find it hard to take photos that capture the atmosphere, but here are a few snapshots.

All over Germany the Christmas markets open throughout Advent attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world. Some are spectacular, nestled into candlelit hillsides or in the parks of great houses and castles. Some are world-famous, like Nuremburg with the angel (Christkind) opening it in an age-old ceremony. Others are simpler, offering just the traditional well-known specialities and crafts. Whichever type you visit, you will be caught up by the magic of a Christmas tradition going back centuries. Surrounded by the soft babble and chatter of other visitors, the smell of fried food and cinnamon sweets, the glitter of decorations for sale, and the cheerful faces around you, it is hard not to smile or be a little frivolous, splashing out on an extravagant candle, a glass of punch, a bag of roasted almonds or a huge jam-filled steamed dumpling covered in vanilla sauce!

I visited two markets this year – first of all Ingolstadt, which is about an hour’s drive north of Munich.

With the New Castle in the background, a sprinkling of snow, and good company, the market has all you can wish for… the traditional wooden decorations and crib figures, food and drink, jewellery, warm socks, cookie cutters, candles, more food, more drink, more decorations ….!

This man has been selling his wares on this market here for at least the past 25 years.

A smaller area nearby offered a quieter repose for another glass of punch (non-alcoholic, I assure you!) and a chat with my friends. But it was very cold that day, with a north wind.

Some of the stall-holders looked frozen to the bone, despite being well wrapped up…

On another day last week I took myself off to Regensburg, a beautiful city on the Danube, and not far from the Bavarian Forest. I always walk over to the old stone bridge if I visit, and the River Danube looked particlularly cold (but blue!) on this occasion…

Despite some bright sunshine it was a chilly day again, but the markets are so enticing and I did all my Christmas shopping there. Take a stroll with me around the markets in Regensburg and see the traditional goods they offer. (Click on any image for a slideshow…)

 

The markets take on a different atmosphere at night, which I have never managed to capture in photos as there are always SO many people and it is hard to move! The thing I love about them most of all is the cheer and friendliness which is definitely lacking in the shopping centres and supermarkets at this time of year. And the food of course. This year I had my favourite warm snack – potato noodles with sauerkraut – as well as some roasted chestnuts, roasted almonds and pumpkin seeds and some delicious non-alcoholic fruit punch. It was nice to go into a cafe afterwards to warm up properly though! 😉

What is your favourite tradition in the run-up to Christmas?

 

 

In a Vase on Monday: Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all of you!

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I am joining the now famous Monday meme hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden: A single Amaryllis flower (Lemon Star) in a cocktail glass seemed to capture the spirit of New Year yesterday. The accompanying mini Sekt bottle is empty…. 😉

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I hope you had a lovely break over Christmas and are refreshed and ready to start the new gardening year with optimism. It is still frozen here, with a light sprinkling of snow, so my garden will be slumbering a little longer.

Have a good week and a good start to the new year 2017!

In a Vase on Monday: Lemon Star

When I walked into my dining room this morning I knew something was not quite right. It was only later, while having breakfast, that I noticed that the first of my Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) to flower this winter was bent over at a dangerous angle threatening to uproot the bulb and put the second bud at risk. So I cut it immediately and put it in a tall vase. Then I realised it is not only Boxing Day, but also Monday – serendipity! I have a vase to share with you after all!

‘Lemon Star’

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A neighbour gave me this bunch of red Amaryllis which are also lovely and cheerful on my windowsill.

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Do take a look at some of the other festive vases posted for Cathy’s meme on Rambling in the Garden.

🙂

A Very Happy Christmas!

The beautiful countryside around us has been shrouded in thick fog and covered in layer upon layer of frost for most of December. When I heard the lovely carol “In the bleak mid-winter” the other day I found it quite apt to describe our surroundings here – the earth is hard as iron (although it has thawed a little in places in the last 24 hours) and the water in the bird bath is hard as stone again. But no snow still. (Sigh)

So I’m afraid I cannot post any pretty photos of frost covered pine trees, glittering in the sun with a blue sky beyond…. but I can offer a glimpse of our black and white world instead.

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And I can wish you all a very Happy Christmas too!

I hope you have the opportunity to relax over the holidays, spend time with loved ones, read a good book or just chill out in front of a warm fireplace with a hot mug of tea…

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Many warm wishes to you all!

😀

 

Christmas Cashew Shortbread (Vegan)

I have been experimenting a bit with my Christmas cookie recipes again, and after discovering a bag of cashews were coming up to their  ‘use by’ date I decided to incorporate them into a cookie recipe instead of the more traditional almonds or hazelnuts.

They are just how shortbread should be – slightly salty, buttery, sugary and crunchy!

So if you are looking for a shortbread recipe with extra crispness and flavour this Christmas, here is my recipe.

Cashew Shortbread

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  • 115 g (1 stick) vegan butter
  • 75 g (2 1/2 oz) raw cashews, ground to a fine powdery ‘flour’
  • 125 g (1 cup) self-raising flour, sifted
  • zest of an orange
  • 2 tsps cardamom (optional as the flavour was sadly lost during baking)
  • 60 g (1/3 cup) soft brown sugar
  • a pinch of salt

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl and work the butter into the mixture with your finger tips until it is nice and crumbly. Bring the dough together into a ball, adding a drop of non-dairy milk or water only if necessary to make it stick. Then wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 180° C/350°F and line 2 baking trays with greaseproof paper. Roll out your dough to about 4 or 5 mm (about 1/6th of an inch) and, using a very small cookie cutter (mine was 4 cm, or 1 1/2 inches), cut out your shapes. Place on the baking sheets and bake for about 10-12 minutes. Carefully move to a cooling rack and let them cool completely before storing.

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This is definitely my second favourite after my vanilla cookies. (By the way, I have updated my original recipe for the Vanillekipferl here, so they are also vegan now and just as good as ever too!)

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Are you doing any special baking this Christmas? What is your favourite sweet Christmas treat?

Pumpkin Pie for World Vegan Month

As Christmas approaches, and with Thanksgiving in the US this week, I thought my vegan pumpkin pie recipe might go down well. I adapted my original recipe (which you can also find on my recipes page) using alternatives for the eggs and milk, and the result was amazing… it tasted fantastic, full of flavour and nobody would ever guess it’s vegan!

I invited a friend over to test it, and the verdict was a definite thumbs up!

So here it is:

Vegan Pumpkin Pie

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Pie crust:

  • 225g (1 4/5 cups) plain flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • 100g (3 1/2 oz) vegan butter

Filling:

  • 425 g (15 oz) pumpkin puree
  • 125 g (2/3 cup) brown sugar
  • 4 tbsps maple syrup
  • 100 ml (2/5 cup) canned full-fat coconut milk
  • 4 tbsps unsweetened almond or soya milk
  • 3 tbsps cornflour
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp cardamom
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ginger

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Method:

Grease a 23 cm pie or flan dish. Rub the butter into the flour and salt until fine and crumbly, then add just enough cold water to bring the dough together. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Roll out the pastry to fit your pie dish. Place some greaseproof paper on top and fill with baking beans. Bake blind for about ten minutes. Remove the beans and paper.

Blend all the filling ingredients together. Pour into the pastry case and bake in the oven for a further 40 – 50 minutes.

Leave to cool and then chill for a few hours or preferably overnight.

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Serve with vegan whipped cream and enjoy! 

Wishing all American readers a Happy Thanksgiving!

😀

Sweet Flower Bread

Our Christmas cookies all disappeared pretty rapidly in December, so on Christmas Eve I made a sweet bread to go with our afternoon cup of tea – after all, the afternoon of Christmas Eve is traditionally a time for the festivities to begin here in Germany.

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It is easy to make and absolutely delicious!

Here is how I made it:

Sweet Flower Bread

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In a large bowl sieve together 300g (2 and 2/5 cups) strong flour, 100g (4/5 cup) plain flour, 100g (4/5 cup) wholemeal flour, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp sugar and 1 packet instant dried yeast (2 tsps)

Stir in 325 ml (1 and 1/3 cups) lukewarm water and 2 tbsps olive oil and mix to form a ball.

Put on a floured work surface and knead for about 10 minutes. Now place the dough in a clean bowl, and coat in a little oil. Cover with a tea towel and leave it in a warm place  to rise – a couple of hours should be long enough.

While the dough is rising you can make the filling. I used 200g (7 oz or 1 and 1/3 cups) finely chopped mixed nuts, 50g (1/4 cup) golden caster sugar and 50g (1/4 cup) brown sugar, 75g (2/3 stick) margarine (or butter), the zest of an orange, a few glace cherries cut into small pieces, and some spices – 1tsp cardamom, 1tsp cinnamon and 1tsp allspice. But you can add chocolate chips or omit the spices, whatever you fancy! Mix the ingredients together so you have a thick paste.

When the dough has risen, punch it to remove the excess air (my favourite part!) and divide into three portions. Now is the also time to preheat your oven to 225° C/425°F. Roll out each piece of dough into a circle about 35cm/14in in diameter. One circle will be your base, so place the other two to one side and cover them for now. The base needs to be placed on a sheet of greaseproof paper on a baking tray. Now spread it with half of your filling. Put the second circle of dough on top and press down lightly. Spread the rest of the filling on top. Finally place the third disc on top and press down lightly.

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To make the flower pattern place a dish or large cup (about 10cm/4in diameter) in the centre but do not press it down! From the dish outwards you now slice the bread into 16 pieces, just as you would cut up a normal cake but obviously without the middle. Remove the dish.

Take two pieces/’slices’ in your hands and lift slightly. Twist the right-hand piece over to the right, TWICE, and the left-hand piece to the left, TWICE. It is easiest to do this with both hands at the same time. Then tuck the ends underneath to tidy it up a bit. Repeat with the other pieces. It really doesn’t matter if the filling spills out a bit as that makes it look so pretty when it is baked! Brush with a little soya cream or milk (optional), sprinkle a few sliced almonds on top and  place in the hot oven for approximately 15 minutes. Keep an eye on it and remove it when it is golden brown all over.

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Delicious served warm, warmish and cold too. This bread can be adapted for any occasion, and I have even made a savoury version before, using homemade tomato sauce and pesto for the filling. I am going to try it with just herbs and garlic soon. 🙂

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Enjoy!