As the festive season draws nearer I can sense that I am fast catching the baking bug, something which is somewhat of a challenge in my lilliputian kitchen! Nevertheless, for me there is always something therapeutic about baking, so long as I have the time and the right ingredients to hand. I’m not entirely sure why it is that I enjoy baking so much, but I think it might be that baking is a timeless tradition that goes down through the centuries. Although the instruments we use may change with the innovations of time, the overall process remains largely the same, as does the tradition of coming together to eat, celebrate, mourn or commemorate. Sometimes I dispense entirely with the trappings of a modern kitchen (I don’t yet own a food processor!) and simply blend/cream/chop/fold ingredients by hand. Although this extends the time taken to complete the task somewhat, I enjoy the prolonged process and the chance it gives me to retreat into my thoughts or to fully appreciate a good album, the company of others or even just the solitude of silence. I’ll never forget reading about Sadie in Mr Rosenblum’s List, who emigrates to Britain from Germany with her husband in 1937 and bakes layer upon layer of sadness and memories into a Baumtorte (a very tall German “Tree” cake with layers of almond pastry). Sadie’s loneliness is relieved somewhat when some women from the village smell her cake and invite her to the town meeting, to which she dutifully takes the Baumtorte:
The women ate, and it was the most remarkable cake they had ever tasted. It was sweet and perfectly moist with a hint of lemon but, as her mouth filled with deliciousness, each woman was overwhelmed with sadness. Each tasted Sadie’s memories, her loss and unhappiness and whilst they ate Sadie was, for once, not alone in her sorrow.
I loved the way that in sharing the cake, the women were able to cross an emotional divide that helped them to understand one another better. On the one hand, Sadie was able to express her sorrow and the difference of her experience, while the women were able to see (and taste) another perspective that gave them an insight previously unseen of an outside and foreign member of their community.
Reflections aside, baking can also be really fun! As I have mentioned in a previous post, I am still in the midst of planning my European Odyssey next year. Given a significant bulk of my trip will be spent in Greece and the Greek Islands, I have all things Greek on my mind and decided to cook in theme with my future travels again. And what better way than with these delicious Greek Kourabiedes! It is a delicious almond shortbread made with a hint of brandy and orange rind which has a great texture and is perfect for a mid morning or afternoon treat. Also great for the gift giving season. Kalí̱ sas órexi̱!
Kourabiedes (Greek Almond Shortbread)
250 g butter, softened
60 g icing sugar
1 tspn orange zest
1 egg yolk
1 tbspn brandy
100 g almond meal
310 g plain flour
1½ tspn baking powder
60 g extra icing sugar, for dusting
Cream the butter, sugar and orange zest in a small bowl until pale and fluffy, then add the egg yolk and brandy and beat until thoroughly combined. Use a metal spoon to fold in the almond meal, flour and baking powder, and mix until well combined. Gather together and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1–2 hours, or until chilled.
Preheat the oven to 160°C and line two large baking trays with baking paper. Shape ½ tablespoons of the mixture into crescents, using lightly floured hands. Place on the prepared baking trays. Bake for 12–15 minutes, or until pale golden. Cool on the trays for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. While still warm, dust with the sifted icing sugar. The Kourabiedes can be stored in an airtight container for weeks..if it lasts that long
*Mr Rosenblum’s List is the first novel of Natasha Solomons, published by Sceptre in 2010.