Easy Christmas baking: plant-based edition.

During this festive time of the year when everything’s decorated and people are in a festive (slightly stressed-out) mood, the lovely smell of baked goods is a perfect addition to the overall atmosphere. Spending a day in your own kitchen to bake Christmas cookies – sometimes more, sometimes less successful – is a lovely time that I wouldn’t want to miss, even though it can cost some nerves – especially when you’re baking with an oven that you’re not really used to (even though you’ve been living in the apartment for a few months now…).

The time before Christmas should also be given the name of butter-season. If you really think of it – most of the delicious baked goods consist mainly of butter. But this is by no means a rant on butter, au contraire, this is rather an ode to it. Well, okay, in my case it’s more an ode to plant-based alternatives.

Most of the cookies that my family bakes happen to be vegan anyways, so it is super easy to make plant-based Christmas cookies if you ask me. I’ll be sharing three of my all-time favourites where the dough is super easy to make (two of which are actually quite similar to each other). And if you ask me, the cookies go perfectly with any hot beverage like tea, coffee, or, if you’re in a very festive mood, with punch or mulled wine. The other day I served the cookies with a non-alcoholic version of hot cider. Delicious combination!

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Vanilla Crescents

For the first type of cookie, the Vanillekipferl as we call them, my mom keeps telling me that it is of utmost importance to be very quick while preparing the dough, and the room in which you’re preparing the dough should be rather cold (or at least you should use cold ingredients). And she got that from my grandma. So my mom’s actually making them in one of the coldest part of the house where there’s no heater – in our pantry :D Well, I don’t have a pantry, but my flat is usually cold anyways and I was using cold ingredients as well. But maybe keep this in mind in case you’re trying the recipe ;) I must admit, the vanilla crescents are my least favourite cookies to make. I mess up the dough all of the time, and they are rather prone to break, and I seem to never be able to get the perfect crescent shape. However, they’re still yummy and they are a Christmas cookie staple.

What you need:

  • 140g plant-based margarine
  • 3 tbsp. plant-based milk alternative (I used oat milk)
  • 200g flour
  • 100g grounded almonds
  • 90g powdered sugar
  • 1 package vanilla sugar

How to make them:

For the dough, mix the margarine with the the plant-based milk alternative and the sugar. Add the flour and almonds and combine it to a dough. Make sure to not overwork the dough. Cover the dough with clingfilm and set it aside in the fridge to cool for at least an hour, but it’s even better to refrigerate overnight.

Divide the dough into small pieces and roll out each of them with your hand into strands with about 1-2 cm diameter and 3-4 cm long. Shape them into crescents (if you wanna make them perfect you should make the ends slightly thinner, which I didn’t). Place the crescents onto a baking sheet lined with parchment. Backe them in a 175-180°C oven for about 13-15 minutes until lightly colored. Be sure to check them after a while to make sure that they are not too brown (this can happen very fast!).

For the coating, mix sifted powdered sugar and vanilla sugar. Carefully remove the crescents from the baking sheet when they’re done and let them cool for around 1 minute. Roll them in the sugar-vanilla mixture and transfer them to a plate. If you’re lazy and you don’t wanna risk breaking the small crescents you can just sprinkle them with the mixture, that’ll do the trick.

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Linzer Augen

The Linzer Augen, “Eyes from Linz” so to say, are one of my favourite kind of Christmas cookies. They are super easy to make, and there’s not a lot of decoration going on but they still taste delicious in my opinion. Also, because I grew up near/in Linz, I like them even more ;)

What you need:

  • 250g margarine
  • 100g powdered sugar
  • 1 package vanilla sugar
  • 350g flour
  • jam

How to make them:

In a mixing bowl combine flour, sugar, almond meal & then work in the butter into the mixture until it resembles a coarse meal. You can either do this with a fork or a mixer / food processor or simply by hand. Then just combine the mixture with your hands and shape them into a dough. Make sure not to overwork the dough! Wrap it in clingfilm and refrigerate for 1-2 hours (or overnight, if you want to).

Preheat the oven to 180°C. On a floured surface, roll out the dogh (1cm thick). Cut out the cookies, and if you want to you can cut 3 small holes (the “eyes”) in half of your cookies, simply do this with a straw in case you don’t have the special cookie cutter for this part. You can also just skip this part, but then it wouldn’t be the traditional Linzer Augen ;)

Put your cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment papaer. Make sure that the cookies on one baking sheet have a similar thickness. Bake them for around 8-10 minutes, until the edges turn golden (not brown!!). After they’re done, remove the cookies from the baking sheet and let them cool. On the cookies without holes, spread some jam, and put the ones with the wholes on top of them. Voilá, you’ve got your Linzer Augen! Oh, and you can dust them with powdered sugar if you want to. Enjoy!

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Almond Wedges

What you need for the short pastry

  • 200g plant-based margarine, soft
  • 400g flour
  • 100g sugar
  • 2 tbsp. almond drink (or any other plant-based milk alternative)

What you need for the topping

  • 200g chopped almonds
  • 50g sliced almonds
  • 150g ground almonds
  • 40g cane sugar
  • 20g sugar
  • 100g plant-based margarine
  • 150-200ml almond drink (or any other plant-based milk alternative)
  • jam
  • 200g dark chocolate

How to make them: 

For the dough, mix all the in a big mixing bowl and knead them to a dough. Make sure not to overdo the kneading, this might ruin your dough. Form a ball, cover it with clingfilm and set aside in the fridge to cool for at least 30 minutes.

For the topping, place the chopped & slices almonds and sugar in a small saucepan and roast them until gold brown. Add the margarine and ground almonds, stirring occasionally so everything dissolves. Add the almond milk and bring to a boil (don’t forget to stir!). Remove from heat and let it cool.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Roll the dough out into a thin rectangle the size of a baking sheet. Place it on a baking tray lined with parchment paper, and take a fork to perforate the surface with it. Spread any jam of your liking (I had some kind of almond jam at home, but apricot jam would fit perfectly as well) over the dough, and then distribute the nut mixture on top. Bake for around 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown.

While it is still warm, cut into triangles. After letting it cool down completely, you can dip the edges of the wedges (hah, this rhymes!) into melted chocolate. Then you can cool this on a wire rack so the chocolate coating solidifies. Enjoy!

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As you can see, you actually don’t need that many ingredients to make any of the cookies. The main ingredients are the usual kitchen staples – margarine, sugar & flour. And they’re super easy to make – you can prepare the dough the night before in case you haven’t got that much time on your hand. And baking cookies can be such a comforting activity (unless something goes wrong with the dough… we’ve all been there!), don’t you agree? Tell me, what’s your favourite Christmas cookie?

Baking something traditional: Marble Gugelhupf.

When I was growing up Sunday used to be the day when my whole family was at home and we could have lunch together as well as the traditional afternoon coffee with cake. Pretty early on my mom entrusted me with the task to bake the cake. I believe that this was the starting point for my love of baking and that had me buy a few too many baking books.

Years went by, the dynamics of my family changed as we kids moved out, I moved abroad for a while. This lead to rare Sunday meetings in my family and less cakes of course. However, this Sunday both my sister (+ her hubby) and I were at my parents’ and I decided that it was about time for me to bake something.

Marmorgugelhupf

Gugelhupf – also Gugelhopf or Kugelhopf – is a very traditional cake in Austria (but also popular in other regions in Europe) that is baked in the very distinctive circular Bundt mold. It is not exactly known where the name derives from, but the dictionary says that Gugel comes from the Latin word cucullus (meaning hood, boonet) and Hupf is ‘to hop, jump’ and refers to the rising of the dough.

Legend has it that Marie Antoinette, archduchess of Austria and Queen of France (the last one before the French Revolution though…), brought the cake from the alpine country to France. Also, during the Biedermeier period the Gugelhupf became very popular in the Habsburg rich. It was welcomed by the emperor Franz Joseph I. for breakfast and became a status symbol in the bourgeois circles.

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There is not one definite recipe when it comes to Gugelhupf as it very much depends on the region, the occasion, and ability of the baker. It can be a yeast dough with raisins or a sponge mixture, ranging from very easy to very elaborate. The cake can be covered in chocolate (for birthdays), or just powdered with sugar.

One version that spices the traditional, easy (and sometimes boring) recipe a bit up is by transferring it into a Marmorgugelhupf – a marble cake – which is made by adding cocoa to some part of the dough. Not only does it add a different taste to the cake but enhances the appearance of the cake with the marbling.

What you need:

  • 4 eggs
  • 250 g powdered sugar
  • 250 g flour
  • 1/2 package (8g) baking powder
  • 10 tbsp. oil
  • 7 tbsp. water
  • 2 tbsp. cocoa powder

What to do:

First you need to separate the egg yolks from the whites. Mix the yolk, sugar, water and oil until you have a fluffy dough. Preheat the oven to 180°C and grease the mold. Then you have to beat the egg whites until stiff. Carefully fold in the stiff egg  whites and flour + baking powder into the dough. Put half or 2/3 of the dough into the mold, mix cocoa powder into the rest of the dough and put it into the mold on top of the first part. Bake the cake for around 45 minutes and then check to see if it is already done (by making the cake test with a thin skewer). Let the cake cool, turn it out on a plate and powder it with sugar. It is ready to be served – enjoy!

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A few simple tricks:

Don’t be too hasty or impatient. Mixing yolk, sugar and so on to a fluffy dough takes some time. Sometimes mixing it for a longer period can help you making a fluffy and light cake.

Sift flour. In order to get a more even or a better result it helps when you sift the flour – especially when you add baking powder to the mix. It breaks up any lumps in the flour, is easier to mix into other ingredients, and helps to combine dry ingredients (such as baking powder) more evenly.

Milk can help. If the dough is too firm and not smooth enough you can always add a bit of milk (at room temperature) or milk substitutes. This increases the moisture and tenderness of the cake. But only add some at a time. Wait until you have mixed it long enough to see if it helped or if you need more.

Ovens differ. Not every oven is the same, so don’t strictly follow the heating and duration instructions. Some ovens take longer, some are faster. I followed a recipe in which it said that I should have it in there for 60 minutes, but it only took the cake around 45 minutes to be done.

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Baking something traditional: Linzer Torte.

With more time on my hand I was inspired to bake a very special cake which in my memory I have only made once in my life before. This cake is a traditional cake from Upper Austria (the region where I originally come from), typical for ‘my’ hometown (or the next big town to my parent’s house – also the town where I went to high school). It is possible to buy this cake in local bakeries but also at the supermarket – and relatively cheap and delicious, which makes it a perfect hospitality present.

The cake’s name is derived from the third biggest city (population) of Austria – Linz ;) According to several sources the Linzer Torte is the oldest cake that is named after a city, with original recipes (there are 4 slightly different ones) dating back to the 17th century. Yet it is unknown who named or invented the cake. A mystery probably never to be solved.

I followed a recipe that I found in an old cook book that my Mom got when she was still in school. There were four different recipes in there, and of course I had to follow the one that is called ‘original’, which unfortunately was also the one with the highest amount of butter -.-

Ingredients
Butter (200g), sugar (180g), grated roasted almonds (150g), flour (250g), eggs (1 egg and 1 yolk), cinnamon (a pinch), and a bit of lemon zest. I also added a pinch of vanilla sugar and a little bit of baking powder, and forgot the lemon zest :D

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How to make it:
You basically mix all the ingredients and create a shortcrust pastry. Then, after formed into a big ball, 3/4 of the dough needs to be rolled and be put onto the base of a spring form cake tin (which doesn’t need greasing). Then spread a layer of red currant jam on top of the dough. With the remaining quarter of the dough several small rolls for the lattice and one bigger for the edge need to be shaped. After doing so, the edge can be sprinkled with flaked almonds. Done. Well, you need to put it in a pre-heated oven (180°C) and bake it for around 45 minutes. The older the cake the better it is, which of course doesn’t mean that you should keep it forever, but it tastes the best after 1-2 days :)

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So if you ever want to try something that is typical for Linz, try this! Very delicious and easy to make. Next time I will opt for a recipe with less butter probably, though :D