Book Club Tuesday: Advent

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When I received a copy of Anja Dunk’s latest cookbook, Advent, near the end of November, I took to my Instagram stories, and I did something I almost never do, I advised people to buy this cookbook before the holidays and not to wait for my review. You see, in flipping through the book and looking at the recipes I knew that this would be a treasure of a book. Full of Dunk’s beautiful photos, stories, and explanations about how baking ties into the way German people celebrate Advent, her enthusiasm for the rituals and traditions of this holiday makes this cookbook so special. And, although Advent is a religious holiday, I found that the book centres more on the things we all cherish regardless of any religious observance: generosity, warmth of the season, and spending time with loved ones.

Considering Dunk’s Advent focuses on the crucial German bakes that make this time of year so special, the recipes are organized into 24 chapters representing the different categories of Advent makes and bakes: 1) Salzteig (Salt Dough), 2) Lebkuchen, 3) Adventsfrühstück (Advent Breakfast), 4) Zwieback und Biscotti (Twice Baked Biscuits), 5) Süße Früchtebrote (Sweet Fruit Breads), 6) Marzipanplätzchen (Marzipan Biscuits), 7) Weihnachtsmärkte (Christmas Markets), 8) Stollen, 9) Spritzgebäck (Patterned Biscuits), 10) Gewürzplätzchen (Spiced Biscuits), 11) Nußplätzchen (Nut Biscuits), 12) Schokoladenplätzchen (Chocolate Biscuits), 13) Makronen (Macaroons), 14) Doppeldecker (Layered Biscuits), 15) Kränze und Zöpfe (Wreaths and Plaits), 16) Baiser (Meringues), 17) Kaffee und Kuchen (Coffee and Cake), 18) Baumschmuck (Tree Decorations), 19) Butterplätzchen (Butter Biscuits), 20) Hexenhaus (Gingerbread House), 21) Weihnachtskonfekt (Christmas Confections), 22) Marzipankonfekt (Marzipan Sweets), 23) Weihnachtsgetränke (Festive Drinks), and 24) Karneval und Silvester (Carnival and New Year’s Eve). Through the beginning of the book, Dunk highlights Advent, the Bunter Teller (the colourful plate of Advent cookies), Nikolas (St. Nicholas Day), Heiligabend (Christmas Eve), as well as giving notes on the baking and specific ingredients, the photography, and her beautiful linocuts.

Since I received this book early enough, I was able to start with the first ritual of Advent — on the first Sunday of Advent (November 28) my daughter and I made the recipe for Salzteig (salt dough). I appreciate how Dunk shares the story of her Omi (her maternal grandmother) teaching her how to make the recipe and, how she and her family make salt dough decorations together — there is a lot of warmth and love in this book! So, my daughter and I sat together to make tree ornaments and an Adventskranz (Advent wreath). This Advent wreath has places for four candles that are to be lit — one each Sunday before Christmas. Each candle has a meaning within the Christian faith but, since I don’t observe, I enjoyed the extra light on the darker days before the winter solstice.

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Weiße Pfeffernüsse (White Pepper Spiced Cookies), p. 117

As I have baked recipes from the book I have been transported back in my memories. With the smells of delicious baking coming from my oven, I am reminded of neighbours we had when I was a small child. Ruth and Herb, German immigrants to Canada, were a lovely couple who often welcomed my sister and I into their home to enjoy freshly baked treats and, the smells of my baking immediately reminded me of their home — full of sweet and spiced scents. One of the cookies that most reminded me of Ruth were the Weiße Pfeffernüsse (White Pepper Spiced Cookies). A soft, domed biscuit spiced with cinnamon, ground cloves, and, of course, ground white pepper — these cookies have a delicious homey feel. Most noteworthy, is that Hirschhornsalz (bakers’ ammonia) is used as the leavening agent, but as Dunk tells us this is the traditional raising agent used in both German and Scandinavian holiday baking. I was able to source it online and used it in these cookies as well as in the recipe for Springerle (Aniseed Biscuits).

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Springerle (Aniseed Biscuits), p.121

The Springerle (Aniseed Biscuits) are the most beautiful cookies I have ever made! The cookie dough is made without any butter and it’s the quick whipping of the eggs with icing sugar and caster sugar that produces an airy, meringue-like texture. What makes these cookies so notable are a few things, least of which is the intricate designs that are achieved by using Springerle cookie stamps (I was able to find some online stores, like Tuckamore Homestead and How Sweet Is That that stock them). Once the Springerle are stamped out, the cookie is placed on a baking tray sprinkled with aniseed (these will become embedded in the bottom side of the biscuit). Then the cookies are left to sit out on the tray for 12-24 hours to air dry — this will help to create a skin on the cookie that protects the design. When the Springerle are baked they will keep well for up to two months and, over the weeks since I baked mine, I have noticed that the texture does become more crunchy and harder.

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Holiday Cookie Box 2021

At the beginning of the holiday cookie season, I had grand intentions of baking up a beautiful Bunter Teller but after realizing my ambitions exceeded the time needed, I instead focused my efforts on the cookie boxes I pass out to friends and neighbours before Christmas. I included a couple Springerle in each box along with a nice amount of Mandelhörnchen (Almond + Marzipan Crescents). For the Mandelhörnchen, marzipan is grated into a bowl containing ground almonds, icing sugar, and egg whites. Once mixed, a sticky dough forms from which you make little crescent-shaped cookies. These get rolled in flaked almonds and after they’re baked the ends of the crescents get dipped into chocolate. The resulting cookie is chewy and crunchy in texture with a lovely smack of almond and dark chocolate flavours. The Mandelhörnchen were a clear favourite from the cookie box!

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Mandelhörnchen (Almond + Marzipan Crescents), p. 131

One of my favourite recipes from Advent is the one for Schneeflocken Marzipankuchen (Marzipan Snowflake Cake). Again, marzipan is grated into the batter which is divided into two cake pans to bake. As Dunk tells us in her recipe head notes, this cake takes its inspiration from Linzer cookies. I didn’t have any raspberry jam on hand, so I ended up using lingonberry jam for the centre, which seemed to be a reasonably good substitute because the lingonberry jam has a similar tangy sweetness to that of the raspberry jam. My daughter enjoyed cutting the snowflake stencil for the top of the cake, which was used to create a relief with icing sugar. A pretty cake to enjoy in the morning or afternoon with a warm cup of coffee.

Although Advent is over and the holiday season is ending, I’ve found myself flipping through Advent making notes for the 2022 holiday baking season! And while I got to enjoy a small taste of Anja Dunk’s latest book there are so many recipes (both sweet and savory) I didn’t get a chance to make. Such a delightful holiday cookbook, I learned much about the rituals and traditions surrounding Advent and the festive German bakes made to celebrate it.

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Schneeflocken Marzipankuchen (Marzipan Snowflake Cake), p.187

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Raincoast Books and Quadrille for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

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