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Swiss Alpine Gingerbreads

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The most popular Swiss country fair cookie, Magenbrot, is a light gingerbread supposed to be a friend of the stomach. He is my friend too!

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Ever since I'm a little kid I've been eating those long black cookies sold at Swiss fetes and fairs as Magenbrot or Pain des Alpes - Alpine Bread. Despite it's dark looks it is very much a member of the gingerbread family and nothing like one of those brownies so heavy you can use them as boat anchors. I happened to find the recipe for these popular Swiss cookies and managed to reproduce them in my kitchen - see how you can do it in yours:

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Swiss Alpine Gingerbread (Magenbrot)
750gr (1.5lbs) sugar
750gr (1.5lbs) cake flour
4 tablespoons cococa powder
3 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon mace (optional)
1/2 teaspoon clove
1 teaspoon baking powder
40cl (14 fluid oz) water
Glazing:
300gr (2/3lb) confectioner's sugar (ultra fine)
200gr (0.5lb) chocolate (couverture)
100gr (0.25lb) milk chocolate
15ml (1 tbsp) water

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Use whole spices and grind them in a blender or mortar. You can then sift the spice powder in a tea sieve to prevent unpalatably large chunks from getting in the dough. Magenbrot really is about cloves, which give the dish its unique character.

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I place everything in a small electric spice grinder and off I go until the powder is as fine as cocaine (from what I see of it on TV - cooking is my cocaine!).

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On a large table, bench or Moroccan dough bowl, mix all of the powdery ingredients together (clockwise from top left: flour, clove powder, sugar, cinnammon powder).

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Add the water to bring life to this desert.

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Hold for a minute to contemplate the fleeting landscape you have created - a japanese rock garden in your kitchen.

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Don't hesitate to add a little more water if the dough is too hard.

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Using a wood or rubber spatula, mix all ingredients together until you have a smooth, even dough.

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At some point, the call of nature will be overwhelming and you might give in and dip your hands into the dough.

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Continue to squeeze and toss and work the dough until a perfectly even black mass is obtained. Please consider that the dough on the picture is too wet and soft - you need something harder. Add some flour to balance the mix if you have been overly prodigal on the water.

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Shape little flat cakes as long and thick as your thumb and lay them on a sheet of baking paper while you heat the oven to 180°C (350°F).

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Bake for 20 minutes or until a sharp knife inserted in the cake exits cleanly. Remove from the oven and place on some grid to let them cool down.

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Please wait until the cakes are cool before slicing or they might crumble. Take this from one who frequently knocks on baker's window in the middle of the night to eat newborn croissant - they are better cold then warm.

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Place the gingerbreads in a large bowl.

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Let's prepare the icing. Unite in a small saucepan or metal bowl the sugar, water and both chocolates and melt on a waterbath. Milk chocolates is hardly prized by foodies but is essential to this recipe. The other chocolate is pastry chocolate, the sort bakers and confectioners use. We call it couverture [koo-vayr-tur] from its French name but it's mainly to look smart. In fact there are hundreds of types of couverture chocolate, you can use plain high-quality dark chocolate and it will be the same.

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Last step is the glazing - you need the proper mise en place for this. If your wife or mom is in the room, ask her to leave. It's the decent thing to do as the vision of chocolate mess might be too much for them. Place your raw gingerbread on the right. Position the waterbath pot with the hot glazing in the center but farthest from you, and a large empty bowl in the middle. Finally, you need a cooling rack set on a tray or disposable paper on your left.

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Take a handful of gingerbreads and place them in the emtpy bowl, then cover with a ladle of hot chocolate glazing.

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Toss like a madman until all gingerbreads are coated evenly. We don't want inch-thick glazing here, but rather for the gingerbreads to suck up chocolate all over their surface. It is a rustic Alpine specialty and thick, even glazing would be quite foreign to its original spirit.

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Wait until the chocolate hardens up, then store in a cookie jar. I took a brown paper bag filled with these cookies to the office - they didn't last the hour and people are still asking for the recipe.

Published 20/10/2008
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47 Comments

  • #1
  • Comment by Rosa
  • on: 20/10/2008
I also make my own Magenbrot... It is such a delicious speciality! Yours look perfect!

Cheers,

Rosa
  • FX's answer→ Rosa, I never actually thought I could make my own Magenbrot but it's so worth doing!

Hmmmm, I have a vision of these being dunked in strong espresso...

Thanks for the neverending stream of wholesome food porn :)
  • FX's answer→ Rodrigo, I am not sure these would really work all that well in hot espresso, the ressemblance to cantucci is only in the shape, the gingerbreads are richer than their bone-dry Italian cousins.

My eyes almost flew out of my head at the sight of the word GINGERBREAD.  (That rhymes - unintentional.)  I make gingerbread people every year but it's obviously a different dough than the biscotti-like incarnation you feature.  I make gingerbread scones and waffles as well - it's one of my favorite flavor combinations.

Printing this recipe ASAP, as gingerbread season is nearly here!

If your office-mates ask you for recipes, the solution is easy - they need to read your blog.
  • FX's answer→ Oh yes Chiffonade, I also love gingerbread and actually made this a couple months ago. I was saving it for Christmas but published so many Reportage and Food Experiences that I felt a good little food porn article was long overdue!

  • #7
  • Comment by Michelle
  • on: 20/10/2008
Bravo again! I laughed out loud reading your text - in addition to being an excellent food pornographer, you're very funny as well!
  • FX's answer→ The Funny Food Pornographer, that's me!

  • #9
  • Comment by cris
  • on: 20/10/2008
Thats great!, ginger bread with chocolate, it's a happy combination.
  • FX's answer→ Cris, I hope you get to try this Swiss classic!

  • #11
  • Comment by Tosca
  • on: 20/10/2008
It looks delicious! I will certainly try this one out. BTW: I already baked your sour cream applepie twice: once with and once without baking shell. Oh and pherhaps it is a good idea to use baking paper or wax paper as a surface for your cookies. Because now you put them on a rack and oven plate, and it gets kind of messy because the chocolate leaks away. And when you would use baking paper you simply wait untill the chocolate is solid again and you can carefully remove your cookies.
  • FX's answer→ Tosca indeed I think letting them dry on baking paper should work better than on a grate. Glad the Scandinavian Apple Pie worked for you!

  • #13
  • Comment by vespa rossa
  • on: 20/10/2008
You have one of the most gorgeous sites around -- I love to read your recipes and really enjoy all of the background history (and of course the mouth watering pictures).
  • FX's answer→ Glad you like my site, Vespa Rossa!

  • #15
  • Comment by Donna
  • on: 20/10/2008
Yum!  "Magenbrot" literally means "stomach bread."  We're always told to use herbs and spices as an aide to digestion -- and the Germanic countries turned them into goodies.

It's hilarious watching Americans socking down Jaegermeister as a cocktail, when it's really a digestive aide and cough syrup!

(The little poem on the bottle goes:

"Das ist des Jaegers Ehrenschild,
dass er beschuetzt und hegt sein Wild,
weidmannisch jagt, wie sich's gehoert,
den Schoepfer in Geschopfe ehrt."

"It is the hunter's shield of honor,
that he protects and cares for his game,
sportingly hunts, as is proper,
honoring the Creator in (His) creation.")
  • FX's answer→ Donna, I think the first two dozens of these cookies really help digestion, after that, it depends on the size of your stomach more than anything.

  • #17
  • Comment by HazelStone
  • on: 20/10/2008
Francois,
Is there any chance you could do a piece on Basler Laekerli (please pardon my lack of accent marks)? BL is probably the finest cookie I've ever tasted. And I can't go to Basel to get more!

  • FX's answer→ Hazelstone I just had lunch today opposite the local branch of the Lackerlihus, a shop that only sells Leckerlis! Yes, it's my plan to make an article about this and also other Christmas cookies.

And here is the question from the bottom of the class --
 What does this mean, no ginger in the gingerbread?

 Lost in Kansas,
yrhumble
  • FX's answer→ Yrhumble, I believe the translation of "Pain d'épice" in English to be Gingerbread, correct? Or is there another word for the family of cookies that contain spices associated with Christmas? Now some of these cookies do not contain ginger, but shall we cast them out of the family for this?

  • #21
  • Comment by HazelStone
  • on: 20/10/2008
Once again, my envy of you grows!

-Hazel
  • FX's answer→ Hazel, envy is a cruel mistress, never quite satisfied, always asking for more. Dump her and go bake my cookies.

  • #23
  • Comment by Belinda from Côtes d'Armor, France
  • on: 20/10/2008
"Pain d'épice" is more 'Spice Cake'... however you CAN use the term Gingerbread... if you put ginger IN it. ;-)

These look luscious and I'll be making them for the holiday season. Looking forward to more cookies/biscuits.

Thank you for such a pleasurable site!
  • FX's answer→ Belinda, Wikipedia's page on Pain d'Epice is translated as Gingergread.

  • #25
  • Comment by Richard Bijster
  • on: 20/10/2008
These look rather simple, yet scanalously indulgent.  I believe that one will never be enough.  Oh well, like Oscar Wilde said, "nothing succeeds like excess" and I like that.  I'll be trying this little number out on several of my friends this weekend.  
  • FX's answer→ Indeed excess is a most delicious path to perdition, and you just can't stop eating these little guys!

  • #27
  • Comment by Laura D.
  • on: 20/10/2008
Any spice cookie or cake can reasonably be called gingerbread in English, even if it doesn't contain ginger (though most do).  These are among my favorite sweets.  Thanks for the recipe, which is new to me.  I've been making Lebkuchen most years, which I adore, but this year I think I'll give these a try.  I can't wait for Christmas!
  • FX's answer→ Laura thanks for saving my English translation! I also love Lebkuchen and indeed the chocolate coated ones are quite close to the Magenbrot.

  • #29
  • Comment by bec
  • on: 21/10/2008
These look absolutely delicious - I'm drooling over my keyboard as I type this ... thank you again for sharing this little gem
  • FX's answer→ Bec I hope you'll get to bake a couple trays of these, they would last for a week if they were not so delicious!

  • #31
  • Comment by Meramarina
  • on: 21/10/2008
May I request another cookie?  Please show us how to make Appenzeller Bibeli!  I bought some from a little bakery in Appenzell and I meant to bring them home, but they were so good I ate them all!  Please please please?  They were sooooo good!
(and I'll be adding some Magenbrot to my holiday baking . . . which I might start today!)

  • FX's answer→ Meramarina I just acquired a book about Appenzel baking the other day and will certainly try to publish an article on this!

  • #33
  • Comment by Amy S.
  • on: 21/10/2008
Those look fabulous!  I cannot wait to try them.

Also, I am loving the big wooden bowl!  
  • FX's answer→ Amy you can find similar wooden bowls on Ebay with the keywords "Dough Bowl", hand carved by farmers in the US of A.

  • #35
  • Comment by Meramarina
  • on: 21/10/2008
Ach!--typo! -- should have written "Biberli"  . . . must be crumbs in my keyboard . . .
  • #36
  • Comment by Jennifer
  • on: 22/10/2008
Beautiful! I must try these. I have a question, though.. for the glaze, did you use confectioner's (powdered) sugar? I think that's what I see in the photo, but the recipe just says "sugar".
  • FX's answer→ Jennifer, indeed it is confectioner's sugar, I updated the recipe.

  • #38
  • Comment by Clémence
  • on: 23/10/2008
FX, many many thanks for a truly magnificent website. A boring question for you: what kind of grinder do you use for spices? I coudn't quite see from the pepper cookies recipe photos, but I'd love to know: I've never come across anything that does the job properly so far.
Clémence (Scotland)
  • FX's answer→ Clemence, I use a little glass bowl placed atop my Kenwood kitchen machine, a product originally designed in Britain!

  • #40
  • Comment by Lillian
  • on: 12/11/2008
Thank you for you site filled with such delicious recipes and beautiful photographs! When you grind the cloves, do you grind just the buds of the cloves (the crumbly, round petals at the top part), or do you grind the entire clove (including the calyx)? I was taught to grind just the buds, but I'm not sure if this is necessary. My cloves will go a lot further if I grind the whole thing. I'd like to make these for Thanksgiving--I think they will be a hit with my family. Thank you!
  • FX's answer→ Lillian, I do grind the whole cloves but it does not seem impossible that the taste differs between the "stem" and the "calyx". Perhaps you could cut your cloves in half, grind them separately, taste and report back? I'd be very interested.

  • #42
  • Comment by Alex
  • on: 01/12/2008
Hi!
This recipe looks delicious, can't wait to try it! I'm having difficulty understanding the water measurements though:

"15cl (1 tbsp) water"

Could you please clarify what you mean? I think that 15cl (150ml) is a lot more than a tablespoon...
  • FX's answer→ Alex, I am most sorry, indeed 1tablespoon is only 1.5 cl and 15ml. My bad!

  • #44
  • Comment by Alex
  • on: 02/12/2008
Thanks a lot! I never tried melting chocolate with so little water before (because I heard that the chocolate could seize), so I'm curious to see how this will turn out. By the way, yours is the most amazing blog on the internet, on any subject! Keep up the good work!
  • FX's answer→ Alex, thanks a lot for your kinds words! Yes it is very intriguing to see the chocolate melt in that little water, the liquid is used more as lubricant to transmit the heat than as a solvent. The chocolate melts readily when heated, and you don't want it too runny or your biscuits will take forever to dry. Good luck!

  • #46
  • Comment by JT
  • on: 13/12/2010
OK,, but where is the GINGER? I,ve worked at Andres swiss pastry shop 7 years and rolands swiss pastry shop we always put ginger(fresh or ground in ) Gingerbread,, Typical swiss don t add tant por tant flour n sugar thats too t sweet,, lol
  • FX's answer→ Gingerbreads is the generic name, in English, of cookies that use spices normally used for savory dishes. The word we use in French is more generic "pain d'épice" or spicebreads. If you put ginger in every recipe, their own personality might get lost. This particular "gingerbread" takes its character from cloves, not ginger.


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