Blueberry festival in Belgium: The Witch and the Black Goat

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While witches have always existed in the Salm valley, just like anywhere else, the folklore group of the Macralles du Val de Salm from Belgium has only been in existence since 1955. Every year on 20 of July, the Macralles gather at a place: called Tienne-Messe to celebrate their Sabbath. This “Son et lumière” show stages amusing anecdotes about what has happened to certain of the people of the Salm valley during the last year, all in the Walloon dialect. Then the next day, they march in procession through the streets of the he Fête des Myrtilles (Blueberry Festival – July 21). The story of the Macralles is drawn from a local legend: the legend of Gustine Makra.

The course of the event: Every July 20 and for 24 hours, the “Neurès Bièsses” (the Macralles) symbolically take possession of the key of the city, and gather on the rocks of Tiennemesse to hold their Sabbath in the presence of their master, the “NeûrBo” (the Black Goat), who is none other than the Devil. This ceremony attracts more than 2,000 spectators every year. The macralleboast, in the local patois, of their harmful activities perpetrated during the year, whose targets are very diverse.

From 7:30 pm, musical and visual entertainment in the streets of Vielsalm

At 9:30 pm: taking the keys to the city; the macralles invade the communal park! During a scenario reviewed every year, they seize the key to the great displeasure of the mayor and the country guard. They then demand power for a period of 24 hours.
The “Neurès Bièsses” (the macralles) then gather at a place called Tiennemesse.
They review funny events and anecdotes of local and regional life. The devil, Neûr Bo (black goat) presides over this ceremony full of magic, terror and laughter. Every year, more than a thousand spectators witness this real sound and light.
Highlights of the Sabbath: – the arrival by the air of witches, with the help of their broom of course! – the establishment of the cauldron where the emmacrallée potion, the “tcha-tcha” will be concocted – the arrival of the devil on an authentic hearse – the enthronements of personalities, greeted by hunting horns and artifices. Not to mention the various more or less skilful attempts of the Country Guard (“the Emmacrallé”) who tries, without much success it must be said, to put an end to the Sabbath and tries to make public order reign!

Who has already once attended the Sabbath in the past should not be afraid to see the same things again from year to year because the Sabbath changes over the years. If we always strive to maintain a common frame to the various performances, we seek above all constantly not to tire the faithful spectators, especially through the use of many accessories and disguises, as well as music adapted and composed by our technical team. The lighting and a studied pyrotechnics make it possible to stage the highlights of the Sabbath, to enhance the play of the actors and the visual effects.
The “Neurès Bièsses” also take advantage of this sound and light show to induct certain personalities, both local and national, and thus confer on them the title of “Baron des Frambâches”. The ritual of enthronement consists in making the future Barons taste the “tcha-tcha” (potion based on crushed blueberries) and to make them ride
and broom and repeat the sentence that will “emmacraller” them forever: “Sôte, Mirôte, oût hayes èt bouchons!”

On the Sabbath are also enthroned the young Macralles nicknamed the ” loumerottes “. The loumerottes only become real Macralles after two years of apprenticeship.
After the Sabbath, a reception is organized and brings together all the members of the Macralles group, as well as the Barons of the Frambâches and the sympathizers. The opportunity for everyone to meet, and to sign the Golden Book, a real treasure illustrated by many cartoonists, each more prestigious than the other…

In addition to the outdoor processions, the Macralles are of course rampant in their own locality; collection of eggs and giant omelette offered each beginning of the year, local entertainment etc. 

By the way every October 31 from 1999 to 2008, the Macralles also organized the Halloween party for children: torchlight procession in the streets of the locality, followed by a ball for all the little devils and other monsters!
Between 2000 and 2010, the Macralles of the Val de Salm were the initiators of 7 “Great Gatherings of Witches”.
The program of these diabolical days expanded as the editions went on: artisanal market ofthewitch, street entertainment: storytellers, fire-eaters, jugglers, magicians, puppet theater, medieval musicians and other troubadours.

In the evening, a large international procession of groups of witches took place: “sisters” came especially from the whole of Belgium, but also from France, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland; as early as 2001, for the first time in Belgium, the presence of luminous electric floats in the procession, always on the theme of witchcraft, which will dazzle more than one!

For the pleasure of the eyes, no less than 8,000 light points are needed per tank to perfect the magic of the show. The closing evening in the communal park is placed under the sign of fire, accompanied by wild music.

The legend of Gustine Makra: she had managed to awaken the fairies and gnomes from hibernation, but she had also revived tormentors and ghosts, werewolves and demons. Fortunately, the later canonized Gengoux, long ago, managed to conjure up the Beings of Darkness. But now that almost 1313 years have passed, they are about to wake up again… Do you manage to make contact with above- , extraterranean and subterranean creatures and reveal the Mysteries of the Macralle? You can learn the language of the black magicians, who not only uses words, but also sound vibrations –and waves, sound patterns and music? After all, don’t you shy away from fighting Gustine Makra & her Creatures of Darkness, and putting them back to sleep with the appropriate formula.

Italian bigné for Father’s day and for Pentecote

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Citrus bergamia, the bergamot orange, is a fragrant citrus fruit the size of an orange, with a yellow or green color similar to a lime, depending on ripeness. Genetic research into the ancestral origins of extant citrus cultivars found bergamot orange to be a probable hybrid of lemon and bitter orange.

The word bergamot is etymologically derived from the Italian word bergamotto, ultimately of Turkish origin: bey armudu or bey armut (“lord’s pear” or “lord pear”). Citrus bergamia is a small tree that blossoms during the winter. The juice tastes less sour than lemon, but more bitter than grapefruit. Be aware of that the bergamot orange is unrelated to the herbs known as bergamot, wild bergamot, bergamot mint, or bergamint –and Eau de Cologne mint (the taxonomy of which is disputed). Those latters are all in the mint family, and are named for their similar aroma.


The bergamot is a citrus fruit native to southern Italy. Production is mostly limited to the Ionian sea coastal areas of the province of Reggio di Calabria in Italy, to such an extent that it is a symbol of the entire city. Most of the bergamot comes from a short stretch of land there, where the temperature is favourable. The fruit is also produced in Argentina, Brazil, Algeria, the Ivory Coast, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, and South-East Asia.

Citrus bergamot is commercially grown in southern Calabria (province of Reggio), southern Italy. It is also grown in southern France and the Ivory Coast for the essential oil and in Antalya in southern Turkey for its marmalade. The fruit is not generally grown for juice consumption. However, in Mauritius where it is grown on a small-scale basis, it is largely consumed as juice by the locals. Usualy extracts have been used as an aromatic ingredient in food, tea, snus, perfumes, and cosmetics (but bergamot may cause skin irritation). Use on the skin can increase photosensitivity, resulting in greater damage from sun exposure. One hundred bergamot oranges yield about three ounces (85g) of bergamot oil.

Adulteration with cheaper products such as oil of rosewood and bergamot mint has been a problem for consumers. To protect the reputation of their produce, the Italian government introduced tight controls, including testing and certificates of purity. The Experimental Station for Essential Oil and Citrus By-Products) located in Reggio di Calabria, was the quality control body for the essential oil Bergamotto di Reggio Calabria DOP during World War II, Italy was unable to export to countries such as the Allied powers. Rival products from Brazil and Mexico came on to the market as a substitute, but these were produced from other citrus fruits such as sweet lime.

An essence extracted from the aromatic skin of this sour fruit is used to flavour Earl Gray and Lady Grey teas, as well as confectionery (including Turkish delights). Bergamot is one of the most common “casings” (flavorings) added to Swedish snus, a form of smokeless tobacco product.

Fragrance Bergamot oil is one of the most commonly used ingredients in perfumery. It is prized for its ability to combine with an array of scents to form a bouquet of aromas that complement each other. Bergamot is a major component of the original Eau de Cologne composed by Jean-Marie Farina at the beginning of the 18th century in Germany. The first use of bergamot oil as a fragrance ingredient was recorded in 1714, and can be found in the Farina Archive in Cologne. However, much “Bergamot oil” is today derived instead from eau de Cologne mint also known as bergamot mint, which is a variety of water mint and is unrelated to citrus.


In several patch tests studies, application of some sources of bergamot oil directly to the skin of guinea pig was shown to have a concentration-dependent phototoxic effect of increasing redness after exposure to ultraviolet light (due to the chemical bergapten and possibly also citropten, bergamottin, geranial, and neral). This is a property shared by many other citrus fruits and other members of Rutacea including Rue). Bergapten has also been implicated as a potassium channel blocker; in one case study, a patient who consumed four litres of Earl Gray tea per day (which contains bergamot essential oil as a flavouring) suffered muscle cramps.

Italian bigné for father’s day with bergamot oil

I have an Italian friend, Luca who is fond of bergamot! He has told me several times that his “Mama” prepares the best Bigné with it. But what is bigné? -I asked him on the other day. And he was laughing meanwhile told the next:

“In my village the well known and beloved dolce (dessert) is the Bignè di San Giuseppe (St. Joseph’s beignet/Father’s Day Cream Puffs) they are deep-fried choux pastry puffs and filled with pastry cream and dusted with powdered sugar. There are many version of this delicacy. My mom’s recipe is for the Roman version of Bignè di San Giuseppe, it’s heaven on Earth,-exagerates Luca just thinking of it and licks his lips meanwhile continues the story of the Bigné. “The cream filled puffs are surprisingly light and fluffy and on the top of that they are easy to make.

“To find the appropriate word to describe this sweet “extravaganza” that used to reign in Luca’s family for Father’s Day (celebrated on March 19th in Italy) is difficult, while they have become a mixture of three region’s: his mother Franca, is from Palermo, Sicily, and his father, Salvatore is from Naples. After living Sicily for Tuscany, Luca’s parents moved to Pontremoli, because of his father’s job. So in this recipe THREE different traditional treats appear to celebrate Father’s day. They had: Zeppole di San Giuseppe from Naples, Sfinci from Palermo and Bignè di San Giuseppe from Rome. To make it clear you need some more elaborate explanation:

“The Sicilian Sfinci are deep-fried too but covered (yep, on top not filled) with the cannoli filling (ricotta with sugar, cinnamon, and chocolate chips) on top and then sprinkled with pistachios. Candied cherry and orange complete this pure joy.

The Neapolitan Zeppole are baked or fried, topped with cream pastry and crowned by an amarena flavored cherry.

And my mom’s version is the Roman variety in which the method for make Bignè is the same as pate à choux or éclairs. It’s pretty precise, so “Cara Silvestra”(that’s me) you need a scale. 

Ingredients for 50 Pastry Puffs: 500 g water, 125 g butter, 7 g salt, 300 g all-purpose flour, SIFTED a couple of times (don’t skip this step), 500 g eggs (usually 500g are from 10 eggs but check by weight them, they need to be the same weight of water) at room temperature, Vegetable oil for frying

For the Pastry Cream: 460 g whole milk, 6 egg yolks 120 g sugar 60 g corn starch, bergamot orange juice and rind or Lemon rind and Vanilla extract, icing sugar to dust for final decoration


Starting with the pastry puffs Note: you can make one day ahead the choux pastry dough and keep it in the fridge.

In a medium saucepan, combine water, butter, and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring with a wooden spoon until the butter has melted completely. Reduce heat to low and add flour. Stir the ingredients vigorously until a ball-shaped dough forms and a white film forms on the bottom of the saucepan (about 5 minutes). Remove from the heat and let it rest a few minutes so it’s not too hot for the eggs. Add just one egg at a time and incorporate well each before adding the next one. Do this until you have a thick cream. It’s possible that you won’t need all the eggs.

In a deep saucepan heat the oil to 370 degrees (If you don’t have a frying thermometer place a toothpick into the oil if it starts bubbling all around the temperature is good). Use two tablespoons to scoop out the dough and drop it carefully and gently into the hot oil, by using one spoon to push the dough off of the other. Do this for about 4 bignè at a time, do not crowd them in the pot. Cook until golden and puffy, turning with a slotted spoon to fry evenly on all sides. (If they brown too quickly it means the oil is too hot). The bignè require long frying, like 7/8 minutes as after 3 minutes you will notice they will pop and almost double in size and they have to keep frying to be fully cooked. When done place on a paper towel and let them cool.

Now make the pastry cream: This recipe is particularly made for the bignè because it’s very thick and it’s perfect to fill the puffs. I like to use the Montersino method (he is a famous Italian Pastry Maestro) to make this pastry cream because it’s quick and super easy. My mother has made it many times without failing so I really recommend it. Basically, you wait for the liquids to slightly boil, add the eggs beaten with the starch, and wait few seconds without touching it until it makes a big bubble. After that, all you need is just to whisk a for a little and it’s ready. More specifically: In a medium saucepan heat the milk with vanilla extract/bergamot or lemon rind. Meanwhile, beat very well the eggs with sugar, add cornstarch and mix gently with a spatula. When the milk starts bubbling on the sides of the pan it’s time to pour the mounted eggs and wait, without stirring. As soon as the milk goes over the eggs making a small volcano it’s time to quickly whisk the pastry cream for a few seconds and it’s ready! Remove the lemon rind (I love to eat it when it’s cool) if you used it, and cover with cling film touching the pastry cream to avoid the creation of any film on top. When the cream has cooled, it’s time to fill the bignè. Using a skewer or a piping nozzle make a hole in your pastry bun and fill with pastry cream using a piping bag. Pipe more on top and dust with powdered sugar. 

Volcano asparagus from Rome

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Volcano asparagus, in Italian is puntarelle or cicoria di catalogna or cicoria asparago is a variant of chicory (chicoria intybus). The heads are characterized by an elongated shape (about 40–50 cm), light green stems and dandeliom shaped leaves. ‘Puntarelle’ shoots have a pleasantly bitter taste.


‘Puntarelle’ are picked when they are young and tender and may be eaten raw or cooked. Often used as a traditional ingredient in the Roman salad called by the same name, they are prepared with the leaves stripped and the shoots soaked in cold water until they curl. The salad is served with a prepared dressing of anchovy, garlic, vinegar, and salt, pounded and emulsified with olive oil.

When do you happen to choose the warm version of puntarelle here are the directions: fry them in some olive oil add two garlic cloves, salt and pepper to taste.

Roll the salted and peppered cod fish in some flour and fry in an other pan. Serve fish with the puntarelle.

To make salad: Fill a large bowl with cold water and ice.

Cut the leaves from the puntarelle and begin to slice off the tender stalks from the puntarelle.

Cut into matchsticks either with a knife or using a puntarelle cutter. Discard the hard woody part of the puntarelle. Add the puntarelle to the ice water to leech the bitterness out. Add the puntarelle to the ice water and soak until it curls up, about 1 hour.

When the puntarelle are ready, strain in a colander, and spin them dry in a salad spinner or dry with tea towels.

Tulip, Love and the Persian New Year

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The superstar of the spring there is no doubt that the tulip is. They can take centre stage like no other flower can, creating unforgettable spring shows. Because the tulip is truly an extraordinary flower. It has a past steeped in legend and has been a muse for art and poetry, it has obsessed nations, and enthralled sultans. Here is one of the exotic legends of its origin from the 6th century. The tale goes…In Persian folklore, the first tulip is said to have bloomed from the blood of star crossed lovers, Farhad and Shirin, in a tale reminiscent of the infamous Romeo and Juliet.

A lowly stone cutter, Farhad, loved the Princess Shirin, and wanted to win her heart. When she heard of this, she would have none of it, and would not even see him, what would she want with a lowly tradie? So Farhad took to the hills with his flute and made beautiful music in praise of Princess Shirin. He fasted as he pined for his love, and soon the villagers made him the talk of the town. They saw Farhad’s plight and felt for him, so they conspired that the two should meet. Princess Shirin was led into the mountain’s forest by her courtesan and when she saw Farhad and heard his music, she fell in love.

The father isn’t happy When her father, the Shah heard that his only daughter had fallen for someone beneath her he was not happy. He could see that she loved him, but was adamant that she should not. He was no dummy, he knew if he told her no, then he may lose her, so he devised a clever plan. He decreed that Farhad, being a commoner, must complete a task, a task that no man could complete. A task that heroes would run from, and only if he was able to do this could he have any hope of ever being with his beloved princess. Now, you might think that that is clever, but it is not the best bit. He had Shirin ask this of Farhad, as a task she wanted complete.

So Princess Shirin went to Farhad and asked  him to dig a canal through the bedrock of the hills. Not just any canal mind you, it had to be six lances wide and three lances deep, oh and forty miles long! She appears quite high maintenance by today’s standards!

Farhad didn’t blink, he loaded up his spade and headed for the hills. He laboured tirelessly for years. From dawn to dark he worked his spade, building the canal, and he was making real progress. The princess would visit, in secret to watch him work, falling deeper and deeper in love – he must have been rippling with muscles by this stage!

Word reached the Shah that Farhad had almost completed his task. The clever trick was not going to plan. The Shah sought council from his cunning Viziers. Together they plotted to send one of the princesses courtiers to tell Farhad that Shirin was dead, hoping that with a broken heart he would give up and go away.

So the courtesan was sent to tell Farhad that the princess was dead. He did not believe her, but was eventually convinced. Then, overcome by grief, Farhad used his spade to take his life, and his blood flowed into the canal.

Things didn’t go according to plan When news reached Princess Shirin she ran to the mountains to see if it was true. Upon seeing him, she then took her own life. Where they lay together, their scarlet blood pooled, and each drop formed a tulip. Ensuring their love will live forever.”

Unhappy end…but at least the tulip has become the most cherished flower since… The Iranian celebrate the spring with this flower at Nowruz‘s time, which is the name of the Iranian New Year, also known as the Persian New Year but it is celebrated worldwide by various ethno-linguistic groups usually on or around March 21 on the Gregorian calendar. Nowruz has Iranian and Zoroastrian origins; however, it has been celebrated by diverse communities for over 3,000 years in Western Asia, Central Asia, the Caucasus, the  Black Sea Basin, the Balkans, and South Asia. It is a secular holiday for most celebrants that is enjoyed by people of several different faiths, but remains a holy day for Zoroastrians, Bahá’ís, and some Muslim communities. Nowruz is the day of the vernal equinox and marks the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. It marks the first day of the first month (Farvardin) of the Iranian calendars. The moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator and equalizes night and day is calculated exactly every year, and families gather together to observe the rituals. While Nowruz has been celebrated since the reform of the Iranian Calendar in the 11th century CE to mark the new year, the United Nation officially recognized the “International Day of Nowruz” in 2010.

Sweet dates balls

House cleaning and shopping

House cleaning, or shaking the house (xāne tekāni) is commonly done before the arrival of Nowruz. People start preparing for Nowruz with a major spring cleaning of their homes and by buying new clothes to wear for the New Year, as well as the purchase of flowers. The hyacinth and the tulip are popular and conspicuous.

Visiting family and friends

During the Nowruz holidays, people are expected to make short visits to the homes of family, friends and neighbors. Typically, young people will visit their elders first, and the elders return their visit later. Visitors are offered tea and pastries, cookies, fresh and dried fruits and mixed nuts or other snacks. Many Iranians throw large Nowruz parties in as a way of dealing with the long distances between groups of friends and families.


Typically, before the arrival of father Nowruz, family members gather around the Haft-sin table and await the exact moment of the March equinox to celebrate the New Year. Traditionally, the Haft-sin (seven things beginning with the letter sin are

  • sabze– wheat barley, mung bean or lentil sprouts grown in a dish.
  • samanu– sweet pudding made from wheat germ
  • senjed -Persian olive oil
  • serke-vinegar
  • sib-apple
  • sir-garlic
  • somāq-sumac

The Haft-sin table may also include a mirror, candles, painted eggs, a bowl of water, goldfish, coins, hyacinth, tulip and traditional confectioneries. A “book of wisdom” such as the Quran, Bible, Avesta, the Sahname or the divān of Hafez may also be included. Haft-sin’s origins are not clear. The practice is believed to have been popularized over the past 100 years.

In Iran, the traditional heralds of the festival of Nowruz are Amu Nowruz and Haji Firuz, who appear in the streets to celebrate the New Year. Amu Nowruz brings children gifts, much like his counterpart Santa Claus. He is the husband of Nane Sharma, with whom he shares a traditional love story in which they can meet each other only once a year (one more love story!) He is depicted as an elderly silver-haired man with a long beard carrying a walking stick, wearing a felt hat, a long cloak of blue canvas, a sash, giveh, and linen trousers. Haji Firuz, a character with his face and hands covered in soot, clad in bright red clothes and a felt hat, is the companion of Amu Nowruz. He dances through the streets while singing and playing the tambourine. In the traditional songs, he introduces himself as a serf trying to cheer people whom he refers to as his lords. His face is covered in soot, and he is clad in bright red clothes and a felt hat. He dances through the streets while singing and playing a tambourine. In the traditional songs, he introduces himself as a serf trying to cheer people whom he refers to as his lords. As a black-faced serf, he is a controversial character, seen as symbolically racist. Therefore, half of his face is sometimes painted white in order to avoid the criticisms. According to some sources, Hajji Firuz is based on a tradition called Mir Nowruzi. Mir Nowruz was a comical figure chosen to rule the municipality for “the last five days of the year” (Panje). The temporary “five-day king” (Šāh e Panj Ruze) would often parade the city with a group of singers and dancers for the Nowruz celebrations

Later, it was claimed that the blackened face of Hajji Firuz symbolizes his returning from the world of the dead, his red clothing is the sign of the blood of Siavash and the coming to life of the sacrificed deity, while his joviality is the jubilation of rebirth, typical of those who bring rejuvenation and blessing along with themselves. Bahar speculates that the name Siyāwaxš might mean ‘black man’ or ‘dark-faced man’ and suggests that the term black in the name may be a reference either to the blackening of the faces of the participants in the aforementioned Mesopotamian ceremonies, or to the black masks that they wore for the festivities.

Oven baked sweet potato with kidney beans

A Swedish bun to die for

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Those who have dealt with the Swedish national sport “fika” (coffee and cake) certainly already heard of the Semla. Whether you know it or not, this wheat pastry, filled with almond cream and whippid cream, it is a must. The Semla is so popular, it even has its own day in the Swedish calendar. In addition to cream and almond cream (a kind of marzipan), cardamom gives the Semla its typical taste, which you can experience through half spring in Sweden. The Semla tastes particularly good on The Day of The Semla, which falls on February 28th this year. The Day of The Semmel is a variation on a tradition called “Fettisdagen”, the fat Tuesday, on which one was allowed to treat oneanother before Lent.

Although the Semla is delicious, in the last few years the craziest variations have been in the hands of Stockholmers. In the race for the craziest Semla, there was already everything from semmel wraps, semmel pizzas, a hot dog semla and a bread crumb. The Semla used to be popular, for example, as it is said that the former king Adolf Frederick of Sweden loved so much the semla that he died of digestion problems on February 12, 1771 after consuming a meal consisting of lobster, caviar, sauerkraut (cabbage), smoked herring and champagne, which was topped off by fourteen helpings of hetvägg (semla).

semla is a traditional sweet roll made in various forms in Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Norway, Denmark, the Faroe Islands and Iceland, associated with Lent and especially Shrove Tuesday in most countries. In Sweden it’s most commonly known as just semla (plural: semlor), but is also known as fettisdagsbulle (lit. “fat tuesday roll“). When it is served in a bowl of hot milk is hetvägg. The name semla (plural, semlor) is a loan word from German Semmel, originally deriving from the Latin simila, meaning ‘flour, itself a borrowing from Greek (semidalis), “groats which was the name used for the finest quality wheat flour or semolina.

Today, the Swedish-Finnish semla consists of a cardamon-spiced wheat bun which has its top cut off, and is then filled with a mix of milk and almond pasta topped with whipped cream. The cut-off top serves as a lid and is dusted with powdered sugar. Today it is often eaten on its own, with coffee or tea. Some prefer to eat it in a bowl of hot milk. In Finland, the bun is often filled with strawberry or raspberry jam instead of almond paste, and bakeries in Finland usually offer both versions. (Many bakeries distinguish between the two by decorating the traditional bun with almonds on top, whereas the jam-filled version has powdered sugar on top). In Finland Swedish semla means a plain wheat bun, used for bread and butter, and not a sweet bun. At some point Swedes grew tired of the strict observance of Lent, added cream and almond paste to the mix and started eating semla every Tuesday between Shrove Tuesday and Easter. Every year, at around the same time that the bakeries fill with semlor, the Swedish newspapers start to fill with semla taste tests. Panels of ‘experts’ dissect and inspect tables full of semlor to find the best in town.

Some bakeries have created alternative forms of the pastry, such as the “semmelwrap” formed as a wrap rather than the traditional bun, while others have added e.g. chocolate, marzipan, or pistachios to the recipe

In Finland and Estonia the traditional dessert predates Christian influences. Laskiaissunnuntai and laskiaistiistai were festivals when children and youth would go sledding or downhill sliding on a hill or a slope to determine how the crop would yield in the coming year. Those who slid the farthest were going to get the best crop. Hence the festival is named after the act of sliding or sledding downhill, laskea. Nowadays laskiainen has been integrated into Christian customs as the beginning of lent before Easter

Hetvägg or Semla

However the oldest version of the semla was a plain bread bun, eaten in a bowl of warm milk. In Swedish this is known as hetvägg, from Middle Low German hete Weggen (hot wedges) or German heisse Wecken (hot buns) and falsely interpreted as “hotwall”. The semla was originally eaten only on Shrove Tuesday, as the last festive food before Lent. However, with the arrival of the Protestant Reformation, the Swedes stopped observing a strict fasting for Lent. The semla in its bowl of warm milk became a traditional dessert every Tuesday between Shrove Tuesday and Easter. Today, semlor are available in shops and bakeries every day from shortly after Christmas until Easter. Each Swede consumes on average four to five bakery-produced semlor each year, in addition to any that are homemade.

The recipe

For the BUN INGREDIENTS: 4 1/4 cups milk, 1.4 oz dry yeast, 12 oz melted butter, 4 eggs, 1 ¾ cups caster sugar, 1-2 tsp salt, 1.5 tbsp ground cardamom, 13.5 cups white flour

FOR THE SWEDISH SEMLA Almond paste – one small container was plenty Powdered sugar Whipping cream

FOR THE FINNISH SEMLA: Raspberry or Strawberry Jam Whipping cream

Directions: Dissolve the sugar in the milk over heat. Do not allow the milk to boil. Allow the mixture to cool until you can withstand testing the heat with your finger for several seconds. (You don’t want to kill the yeast!) When cool enough, add the yeast to the milk. Let sit for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the butter and allow to cool for a minute or two. Add the eggs. Add the egg/butter mixture to the milk/sugar/yeast mixture. Add the salt, cardamom, and flour. Run in a mixture with a dough hook or knead until smooth and only slightly sticky.

Cover the dough and let rise until doubled in size. You can refrigerate the dough at this point, but be aware it will take the buns a very long time to rise if you do.

Weigh your buns. 110 grams for very large buns and 35 grams for smaller buns. (I prefer the smaller as the large are very difficult to eat.) Roll each bun until smooth. Let buns rise until doubled. You will really be able to see the lightness. Use a pastry brush to brush each bun with an egg wash.

While baking, whip the cream.

FOR THE SWEDISH SEMLA Cut off the tops of each bun.1Scoop out a pocket of bread. Preserve the breadcrumbs. Mix the bread crumbs with almond paste – to taste. I used a foodprocessor. Add in enough whipped cream to moisten and make it all hold together. Refill the pockets with the almond paste mixture. Cut each top into a triangle. Replace each top.

Sprinkle powdered sugar on top.

FOR THE FINNISH VERSION Cut the top off each bun. Spread a generous amount of jam onto each bun Top with whipped cream. Replace the top.STEP 22Bake at 425 for about 15 minutes, depending on the size.

Rose hip cake

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The rose hip or rosehip, also called rose haw and rose hep, is the accessory fruit of the rose plant. It is typically red to orange, but ranges from dark purple to black in some species. Rose hips begin to form after successful pollination of flowers in spring or early summer, and ripen in late summer through autumn.

Roses are propagated from hips by removing the achenes that contain the seeds from the hypanthium (the outer coating) and sowing just beneath the surface of the soil. The seeds can take many months to germinate. Most species require chilling (stratification), with some such as Rosa Canina only germinating after two winter chill periods have occurred.

Rose hips are used for  herbal tea, jam, jelly, syrup, rose hip, beverages, pies, bread, wine marmalade. They can also be eaten raw, like a berry, if care is taken to avoid the hairs inside the fruit.

A few rose species are sometimes grown for the ornamental value of their hips, such as Rosa moyesii which has prominent large red bottle-shaped fruits.

Rose hips are commonly used as a herbal tea, often blended with hibiscus and an oil is also extracted from the seeds. They can also be used to make jam, jelly, marmalade, and rose hip wine. Rose hip soup “nyponsoppa”, is especially popular in Sweden. Rhodomel, a type of mead, is made with rose hips.

Rose hips can be used to make pálinka the traditional Hungarian fruit brandy popular in Hungary, Romania, and other countries sharing Austro-Hungarian history. Rose hips are also the central ingredient of Cockta, the fruity-tasting national soft drink of Slovenia. Its main ingredient comes from dog rose hip; the other ingredients come from 11 different herbs, lemon and orange. Its original variant contains neither caffeine nor orthophosphoric acid.

The fine hairs found inside rose hips are used as itching powder. Dried rose hips are also sold for primitive crafts and home fragrance purposes. The Inupiat mix rose hips with wild redcurrant and highbush cranberries and boil them into a syrup.

Wild rose hip fruits are particularly rich in vitamin C, containing 426 mg per 100 g or 0.4% by weight. However, the fresh rose hips and several commercially available products revealed a wide range of  L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C). Use of rose hips is not considered an effective treatment for knee osteoarthritis.

In  the literure

The rose hip is the subject of a group of folk puzzles that have been handed down since the 16th century. The children’s song written by Hoffmann von Fallersleben: A man stands in the forest was inspired by the rose hip.

“HG Butte” or “HGbutte” is an old running gag in the Bundeswehr, Germany, which is still used jokingly. it refers to the HG (main liberated) Butte (call name), which quickly sounds like “Hagebutte”.

Rose hip cake

The recipe ingredients: 2 cups flour, 1/4 cup rosehip powder, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 3/4 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons cinnamon powder, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg powder, 1/8 teaspoon clove powder, 1/2 cup butter, 1/2 cup honey, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 2 large eggs, at room temperature, 1 1/2 cups milk
For the coating: 1/4 cup dried de-cored rosehip 3/4 cup apple juice 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened 8 ounces cream cheese, softened 1/2 cup honey

Place rose hip berries into a bowl, Pour over apple syrup. Place into the fridge overnight.

Next day preheat oven for 375 Farenheit or 180 degrees. Put the flour, rose hip flour, baking powder, soda, and spices into a bowl. Mix them well. In an other bowl mix the butter (room temperature) with honey well add vanilla extract and eggs. Stir them evenly. Pour flour mixture over butter mixture. Stir well all ingredients. Pour the massa in a spring torta form. Place into the oven and bake for 50 minutes or until the cake is baked.

Meanwhile prepare the frosting from the rose hip berries (were soaked in apple juice) and add butter and cheese (Philadelphia or Mascarpone) and the honey. When all ingredients are well stirred you can cover with it your cake. Enjoy!

Brioches from France or the three kings’s cake

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Januáry 6th is the day of the Three Kings or the Epiphany. In France and Belgium this day means the day of the Three Kings’s cake, which is rather a brioche.  „Then let them eat brioche!” –exclaimed Marie Antoinette… Although legend has it that Marie-Antoinette, the wife of XVI. Louis addressed the people of Paris with this sentence when they complained about the rise in the price of bread, it is not clear from her which pastry the Queen was talking about. Because in France there are numerous variants. A small overview:

Brioche á tete (Brioche with heads)

This name refers to the typical form of classical brioche. How to prepare it? The yeast dough with plenty of butter and lots of eggs is divided into two balls, one larger and one smaller, which is placed on top – that will be the head. The whole thing is then baked in an exhibited form with a wave edge before it is … is devoured!

Brioche feuilletée (leaf dough brioche)

A sinful seduction: The brioche dough gets several “tours” like a puff pastry. More specifically, a butter plate is wrapped in it, then the dough is rolled out, folded on top of each other in the middle, turned, then rolled out again and folded several times. This technique creates a seductive consistency that is rich but at the same time very airy. 

Briochettes (Mini-Brioches)

All bakeries in France and in Belgium sell mini-brioches, these are real classics without everything as well as sprinkled with chocolate sprinkles or “hail” sugar, which crackles so wonderfully crispy when biting. Milk rolls are a soft brioche variant, but contain less butter.

Brioche aux pralines (brioche with burnt/grilled almonds)

A specialty from Lyon! The classic brioche dough is crossed with bright, red coloured burnt almonds. Kitschy to look at and irresistible in taste.

Kouglof or Kougelhopf (Alsatian Gugelhupf)

This Alsatian specialty consists of a sourdough refined with a little butter and is garnished with whole almonds and raisins in rum or white wine. The Kougloff is baked in a special clay shape with waves and a hole in the middle, which is often beautifully decorated with traditional floral motifs. 

The Italian Mother Christmas and the Italian bagels

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Santa Claus, his Italian name is Babbo Natale, aka Father Christmas, but what’s interesting is that in Italy he’s not the gift-giver, but the “La Befana” (the name derives from Epiphania). That creature, still considered an evil witch in the Middle Ages, was called La Vecchia (old woman) and was alarmed with a bell. In the later centuries, however, Befana has become a kind, gift-giving fairy. Her first celebration, according to legend, took place during the birth of Jesus and the Three Kings:- “When the Three Kings came to Befana’s house with gifts on their camel, as she owned the most prettiest house in the village, they asked him for accommodation for one night. The next day, when they set out, they called Befana to go with them to Bethlehem, but she claimed that she still had a lot of work to do. Later, however, she changed her mind and went after them, but even though she followed the bright star, she could not find the Three Kings anywhere, so in every house where children lived she left gifts in case one of them was The Little One. Every year since then, Befana pays a visit every year on the night of January 5th to 6th (12 days after Christmas) and goes looking for the Little Jesus, she peeps through the windows of every houses, and where there is a small child, and if the room is decent and clean, she drops a gift, but if she finds it messy, she will put a piece of coal in the sloppy child’s socks and put onions and garlic next to their pillows.”

Taralli, the Italian bagel

As December 6th approached, my Italian friend Rosella brought up the Italian customs associated with the Befana, and since there is no holiday without festive food, she gave me some Italian recipe in addition to Mother Christmas’s story. -“I admit that I grew up not really know why La Befana was so special,”- Rosella began, -“my parents always said she was a distant relative of Santa Claus, and I was satisfied with that explanation. I was about five or six years old when I woke up on the morning of Epiphania Day with a delicate scent of anise. When I sat up in my bed, next to my pillow, I found something that looked like a piece of coal. I was at the edge of crying, but when I looked at it closely, I realized that what I thought was carbon was actually marshmallows (marshmallows, soled in black licorice).

Consumed it, of course, I immediately came to terms with the world and Befana. I’m not saying it was brilliant. The prankster, of course, as it turned out later, was my father, because as I thought back to the events of the previous day, it came together that Vito – I like to call my father on his name – had begged me the night before to go over for a glass of Limoncello (lemon liqueur) and taralli to my grandma’s. Grandma always prepared this for La Befana, with the exclamation that the poor woman needed it very much to regain her strength after climbing down the chimney to us ( at that time we had no chimney at all, and grandma needed the liquor after the whole day’s robot, haha).

“With milk and biscuit for Mother Christmas, it doesn’t seem to be good!” -My father said with a big smile, “because over the centuries, this La Befana has become more sophisticated in taste, especially in the field of alcoholic beverages!”- He added, looking at Grandma, and she laughed with him. My father later told me about the candy, disguised as a piece of coal, that La Befana told him I was a good girl, but she wanted to make sure I stayed that way for the rest of the year, which is why she tricked me. And then he told me that when he was a little boy, back in Italy, all he got was an orange, even if he was really good, so I’m glad I had that kind of delicacy, even if it looked like a piece of coal! –

“Today in Italy, Befana’s Day is the best deal, because the lovely old lady who’s flying around, by the way, is sweeping up the nursery, having to be accompanied by a little bottle of wine and some sweet and salty biscuit. The recipes vary from country to country. In Puglia the most popular are caramel and sweets flavoured, then almond cream cakes (in Vicoli, Pescara, where my father comes), panettones and torrones, and salty Tarallis.

The Taralli (ring shaped (10 – 12.5 cm) is an Italian bagel. There is a spicy and sugar coated version. The most popular are onion, garlic, sesame, poppy-sprinkled, fennel-flavoured, peppery-chili flavoured tarallik. Sweets are eaten dipped in wine, just like cantuccini. The smaller taralli’s name is Tarallini.

Like bagels, it is necessary to cook for a short time before pushing it into the oven, which is what makes the texture so strange. In the oven, the tarlli is shelf-life in a breezy bag, but the oil-baked one go off sooner.

Terrine for Xmas

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In France there is no Christmas without terrine. I know that fact from my aunt Sylvie, who is a native Parisian. There is no Christmas or other festivities with this traditional appetizer in her family. And since I have spent a significant part of my life in Belgium as well there’s also a traditional dish, mostly made of minced meat (goose liver) which had to be on the festive table. Most of the time with kiwi or jam on top of the sweet mini brioche.

Paté, terrine

The terrine is a loaf of forcemeat or spice, similar to a paté, that is cooked in a covered pottery mold (also called a terrine) in a bain-marie. Modern terrines do not necessarily contain meat or animal fat, but still contain meat-like textures and fat substitutes, such as mushrooms and pureed fruits or vegetables high in pectin. They may also be cooked in a wide variety of non-pottery terrine moulds such as stainless steel aluminium, enamelled cast iron, and ovenproof plastic.

Terrines are usually served cold or at room temperature. Most terrines contain a large amount of fat, although it is often not the main ingredient, and pork; many terrines are made with typical game meat, such as pheasant and hare. In the past, terrines were under the province of professional charcuteries, along with sausages, pâtés, galantines, and confit.

In French or Belgian cuisine, pâté may be baked in a crust as pie or loaf, in which case it is called pâté en croûte, or baked in a terrine (or other mold), in which case it is known as pâté en terrine. Traditionally, a forcemeat mixture cooked and served in a terrine is also called a terrine. The most famous pâté is probably pâté de foie gras, made from the livers of fattened geese Pâté en croûte is baked with the insertion of “chimneys” on top: small tubes or funnels that allow steam to escape, thus keeping the pastry crust from turning damp or soggy. Baked pâté en croûte usually develops an air bubble under the crust top as the meat mixture shrinks during baking; this is traditionally dealt with by infusing semi-liquid aspic in the hollow space before chilling.

Terrine with fish and vegetables

In Poland, pasztet is made from poultry, but also from fish, venison, ham, or pork with eggs, flour, bread crumbs, and a varied range of additions, such as pepper, tomato sauce, mushrooms, spices, vegetables, ginger, nutmeg, cheese, or sugar.

In Russia and Ukraine, the dish is mostly prepared with beef, goose or chicken liver and thus is commonly known as pechyonochniy pashtet (“liver pâté”), however other meats also can be used. Unlike the Western European method the liver is first cooked (boiled or fried) and mixed with butter or fat and seasoning such as fresh or fried onion, carrots, spices and herbs. It can be further cooked (usually baked), but most often is used without any other preparation. In Russia, the pâté is served on a plate or in a bowl, and is often molded into the shapes of animals, such as hedgehogs. A similar recipe is known as chopped liver in Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine, where schmalz is used instead of butter and hard-boiled eggs are usually added. Another common type of pâté in Jewish cuisine, also popular in Russia and Ukraine, is vorschmack or gehakte herring (chopped herring).

In the former Yugoslavia, pašteta or паштета (a thinly pureed pâté) is a very popular bread spread usually made from liver, chicken, pork, beef, turkey or less commonly tuna or salmon..

In Vietnamese cuisine, pâté is commonly used on bánh mi baguette type sandwiches. Pâté of this type is more commonly made from liver.

You don’t have to make a pie out of meat! Nowadays the vegetable version is becoming more and more popular. For instance I prepared an asparagus terrine on the other day, and it was a big hit, here is the recipe:

Ingredients: 500 gr sander fillet, 4 eggs, 200 gr Gruyere cheese, grated, 4 pieces black root or asparagus, 200 gr ready-made puff pastry, 200 ml sour cream

Preparation: Peel off the skin of the fish and remove the splinter. Peel the black roots or asparagus and cut each into two parts. Place in a pot, pour water over it, toss in the asparagus, add a vegetable broth, a little lemon and a spoonful of sugar, then cook for about 10 minutes. Filter and set aside.

Pour the egg yolks and Gruyere cheese into a bowl, mix, salt and pepper. Beat the eggwhites until stiff and stir gently to the cheese mixture.

Roll out the puff pastry on a baking paper, pour the cheese filling over it, place the fish in the middle of the pastray and surround it with the black roots or asparagus. Cover the fish and the root with the puffed dough.( Let’s form the dough into fish). Grease the top with oil. Bake the dough in the oven at 220 degrees for 30 minutes.

The terrine can be served with a salad with black pepper flavored sour cream.

Visiting the Bavarian Sugar fairy

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The passionate cookbook author, Theresa Baumgärtner is full of inspiration. Her cake recipes and wintry decoration ideas invite us to enjoy the baking craft.

Theresa Baumgärtner’s philosophy is “Follow your heart.” And she lives her life according to this. Already during her studies of culture and business in the university, the amateur chef decided to become self-employed in relation to culinary topics. Inspired by her roots in Baden as well as numerous journeys, the lively North German conjures up refined dishes on the table, which always have a history. On her food blog „theresaskueche.de” her readers are always very close to the action of pans and pots. After a small baking book on the subject of shortbread, Theresa Baumgärtner developed her show “Theresa’s Kitchen” (in the NDR) and also determines the prop and the look of the show in loving detail. Today, the creative connoisseur lives in Luxembourg, where she transforms the products from her small garden into tasty creations.

Meet the Sugar Fairy

Theresa, who was inspired by Ludwig’s castle and Tchaikovsky’s ballet in writing one of her book, will be my guide. I’m not surprised then, when she calls me and says we should go to the castle first. Place of longing and inspiration for 150 years, the fairy tale castle, Neuschwanstein in Bavaria enchants the people of all over the world. Especially in winter, it turns into a breath-taking stage under the sugary snow hood.

-“Before making the baking stuffs and decorating the biscuits, you need to tune in. An impulse, a delightful spark that ignites your creativity. But where do we find it? The theatre is a good place for this. In Germany already at the beginning of December, some ballet productions come back to the stages. Tsackovski Swan Lake enchants and also the Nutcracker instantly takes me into a glamorous dream world.”

So Nutcracker and Swan (the latter is Ludwig’s and Wagner’s favorite) these wonderful inspirations we take with us on our journey to near Allgau. During the night, winter takes over its task as a formidable set designer. Rough-ripened snow cover the landscape with a white delicate coat. What an appearance by the castle Neuschwanstein in this winter setting! It sparkles and glitters as if it were a gigantic festival stage. Swaying frosty reeds at the Weissensee. The ice on the shore seems thin like fine crystal glass. But we won’t linger in Neuschwanstein, after taking a few pictures of the castle, we’ll be on our way to Füssen.

Füssen was already settled in Roman times, then in Late Antiquity it was the home of a part of the Legio III Italica, which was stationed there to guard the important trade route over the Alps. By now the town is known for violin manufacturing and as the closest transportation hub for the Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau castles!

First we check the site of the “Hohes Schloss” (High Castle), the former summer residence of the prince-bishops of Augsburg. Below the Hohes Schloss is the Baroque complex of the former Benedictine monastery of St Mang, whose history goes back to the 9th century. Saint Mang or Magnus of Füssen as its patron saint. In the old buildings of Füssen, the roofs of the historic half-timbered houses nest together tightly. White dusted, they look like they are from a Fairy Tale’s book. Here we stroll through the festively decorated streets of the old town up to the courtyard of the Hochen Schloss (the High castle), step by step up the spiral staircase to the Storchenturm. Arriving at the top, icy wind gusts and a magnificent view over the snowy ones await us. Roofs of the city down stairs, so it’s time to warm up, with Theresa guidance we head for the bakery of the sugar fairy, Stefanie Perkmann’s atelier. It is a wonderful place. As we see in her pastry shop there is a lot to do in the pre-advent’s time.

“Baking is an art and expresses the imagination. Historical cake displays made of brass and special finds from the Fleamarket inspire me!”- she says cheerfully when we arrive at her place. The production of the spicy gingerbread dough, the pricking of the biscuits, the shaping and decorating of the different varieties, all this seems to be easy for her to get out of hand. “The quality of ingredients and the love of baking are the most important.”- she says. And we are sure, that’s why her spicy biscuits are considered the best in the city.

Allgau, the region of Bavaria is full of beautiful stories so that it inspires the imagination. Baking with models pays for the most beautiful Xmas traditions. The nostalgic wooden shapes are often passed down from generation to generation.