German Fermented Gingerbread Cookies

From a German reader, Peter Schottler (email info [at]

Fermented Gingerbread

Traditional German Christmas Cookies used to be made with fermented Lager Dough which was prepared around August and left to ferment until baking time in November / December.

This is a mostly forgotten art. This is very simple to make, with delicious results: Cookies with a very subtle, fine texture.

In August/September/October you prepare the basic dough without any spices/ dried fruit/nuts/leavening, which are all added later, when you bake the fermented gingerbread.

Traditionally, this kind of luxurious gingerbread cookie is baked on wafers. I use round wafers with a diameter of 70mm and I baked 530 gingerbread “Ellisen-Lebkuchen” this year – as they make a Christmas present you can’t easily buy, with an exquisite taste.

As I assume you want to start with a small quantity the first time, I’ll give you a small recipe.

For the Lager dough you need:

1 kg of organic blossom honey
1 kg of treacle (dark sugar syrup from beetroots)
2 kg of organic flour (I use spelt flour of a type between wholemeal and white)

That is all, if you want to rely on wild fermentation, which is the ‘old way’ to do it – that is to rely on the fungi, yeasts and bacteria from the organic flour and the organic blossom honey and to a lesser extent of the beetroot-syrup“ (Zuckerrübensirup) I use.

You take a large stainless steel pot with a lid, slowly warm the honey and the treacle to up to 37°C/99°F to make it easier to stir/knead in the flour. (This being the temperature in a bee hive, in the human body, and a temperature lactic acid bacteria like best – well, the ones I have spoken to…)

Once you have mixed the three components to form a dough, you put the lid on the pot and leave it to ferment in a cool spot for a few months.

Once November or December have come, you might want to bake your gingerbread cookies.

I take a portion from the dough, put it in a large baking bowl and place the bowl on a water filled pot on my stove for a few hours to get slightly warm so that I can knead in the things I want to knead in.

These will be:
− a pinch of salt
− 2 or 3 or… tablespoons full of „gingerbread spice“
− candied lemon and orange peel
− candied fruit (ginger, cherries, dates…) all cut into small pieces
− ground or chopped almonds, cashew nuts, walnuts etc.
− chopped dark or milk chocolate
− maple syrup
− ground cardamom, cinnamon, pepper, cloves, a little nutmeg, allspice, coriander, ginger (if you cannot buy “mixed gingerbread spice”), ground (organic) vanilla

Once you have mixed your dough with these goodies the next step is to add 2 leavenings. In Germany we use 2 tablespoons of “Hirschhornsalz” (hartshornsalt, ammonium carbonate) dissolved in a little lukewarm milk, stir that into the dough, followed by 2 teaspoons of potash (potassium carbonate), also dissolved in lukewarm milk and stirred in. If these are not available, use 2 tablespoons of baking powder and 2 teaspoons of baking soda.

Add a little more water or – more likely – some organic flour to get the dough to a consistency that enables you to form little balls of dough with a teaspoon and your hand which you then put on a wafer on a baking tray and press it to form a pancake shape. The cookie will rise a bit perhaps by 100% in height and a bit less in width. You’ll find out the right amount of dough for each wafer soon. About the amount of the size of a walnut?

Bake at 180°C/350°F on the lowest shelf for 15 to 18 minutes. Don’t bake your gingerbread too dark – just nice and brown. Cool on a rack with good air circulation.

Then, the next day, you can proceed if you wish and add the icing / chocolate coating.

My favourite is a gingercake with lots of candied orange and lemon peel, candied ginger, walnuts, sliced dates, cashewnuts, chopped chocolate, covered in a chocolate coating of molten chocolate which we call “couverture” with a French word.

But I also like this icing:

250 grams/1/2 pound powdered suger
1 or 2 tablespoons of organic lemon juice
4 or 5 tablespoons of raspberry (or other red) juice
2 handfuls of dried red rose petals

In a mixing bowl mix the lemon juice, raspberry juice and dried red rose petals.
Use an immersion blender to cut the petals into very fine pieces in the juice, which can take about 3 to 4 minutes.
Add the powdered sugar until you get a thick icing which you can use to “paint” your cookies. The raspberry juice makes the mixture a pastel pink, in which the darker red rose petal pieces give you nice red dots – and the lemon juice the much needed zing.

Kept in airtight containers (metal boxes, jars…) the gingerbread cookies would keep until Easter. ; – )

If they should get a bit hard, put half a small fresh apple into the container, which will give them some moisture back.

Cucumber & Nasturtium Kimchee

Both cucumbers and nasturtiums can be found in full production side by side in the garden, and they combine very well for a light tasty kimchee.  Cucumber kimchee is ready to eat immediately and has a very short shelf life.  It’s a quick and simple kimchee that is very refreshing and easy on the palate.















1 or 2 thin-skinned cucumbers, sliced.

1 small clove fresh garlic, crushed.

1 dozen or so green nasturtium seeds, crushed.

1 dozen or so nasturtium blossoms, whole.

1 T. plus 1 pinch of sea salt.

1 dash fish sauce.

1 pinch red pepper flakes.

1 dash kimchee juice, as starter.






Salt sliced cucumber with 1 T salt. Let sit for an hour or 2.  Discard salty brine, rinse salt away using fresh water and drain of excess water.  Add crushed garlic and nasturtium seeds, pinch of salt, dash of fish sauce, blossoms, red pepper flakes and kimchee juice and mix well. Pack in a sturdy jar and let ferment a few hours to overnight.  Enjoy immediately or refrigerate to slow the fermenting process.




Molded Corn Starter for Chicha in Costa Rica

A highlight of my recent visit to Costa Rica was seeing first-hand how the indigenous Bribri people there prepare a molded corn starter for making chicha, a corn-based alcoholic beverage. Chicha is most famously prepared in the Andes mountains of South America by chewing corn in order for the corn to become saturated with salivary amylase enzymes, which break down starches into simple sugars fermentable into alcohol. I have made chicha in this way and published information on how to do this in my books Wild Fermentation and The Art of Fermentation. I had heard from travelers to the Andes that much of the chicha available there today is produced not by chewing corn but instead by malting (sprouting or germinating) corn, as barley-based beer is made. Germination also produces enzymes that break down starches into simple fermentable sugars. Then, a few months ago, when I first met Costa Rican environmental and seed activist Fabian Pacheco, he told me about this chicha made using a molded starter.

There are the three ways in which people around the world break down complex carbohydrates into simple sugars to ferment into alcohol: malting, molds, and chewing. Each of the three methods accomplishes the job. Chewing is generally regarded as the most ancient method, in contemporary use in a few different regions that I have heard about, scattered around the world. The Western tradition of beer making relies on malting, as do African sorghum beers and some Central and South American corn beers. Molds are used throughout Asia, in varied forms with names including chu, koji, marcha, nuruk, ragi, and nearly infinite local variation. Though the use of molds to make alcoholic beverages (primarily Aspergillus molds, but the traditional mold cultures are generally biodiverse) is widespread across Asia, I had never heard or read of their use in any tradition elsewhere. That is, until I met Fabian and he told me about the use of molds by the Bribri people near the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica for making their version of chicha. Fabian invited me to come to Costa Rica and took me to meet his Bribri friends, who showed us how they make this molded corn starter that they call oko in their language, and is known in Spanish as mohoso, which translates as “moldy.”

Fabian brought me to Finca Loroco, a diversified organic farm and educational center, run by his Bribri friends. The oko was already in process, being made by Mauricia Vargas, the mother of the family, Solar Trailer in keeping with tradition around the world in which women have been the brewers. As Mauricia explained it to me, dried kernals of (starchy) corn had been soaked in water for three days. Just before our arrival, the soaked (and thus already fermenting) corn was ground into a thick paste, like a masa dough for tortillas or tamales. We participated in the next step, placing handfuls of this dough into large leaves of a plant they called bijawa (genus Calathea). Each mass of dough was wrapped like a tamale, except in two leaves. The technique was to fold the stacked leaves in half, in order to break their spines in the middle, then form the mass of dough into a rectangular shape on the stacked leaves, roughly 6 inches/15 cm high by 3 inches/7.5 cm wide and ½ inch/1 cm deep. (I did not measure, these are my estimates, and the masses varied quite a bit in size.) The important thing is that the mass be small enough to fold the leaves around them and completely enclose them.



Dough made by grinding soaked corn, bijawa leaves for wrapping it, and cooked, wrapped corn masses.



Mauricia Vargas wrapping corn dough in bijawa leaves for making oko.


The corn dough wrapped in leaves were then cooked in a big pot, most of them covered with water, but the ones at the top steamed rather than boiled. They were cooked for about an hour, then removed from the pot, and left to spontaneously ferment and mold. We did not stay for the entire fermentation period, but as Mauricia explained it to us, the wrapped corn is left undisturbed for four days. On the fifth day, the leaves are opened and the corn masses are removed. Then the leaves are turned over and the corn masses are rewrapped, with what had been the outer surfaces of the leaves in contact with the corn mass. This brings different leaf surfaces into contact with the corn mass, exposes everything to air (molds need oxygen), and seems to help to evenly distribute mold formation. After four more days, the mass is partially dried in the sun, then rewrapped, again flipping the leaves to vary surface contact. Finally, after four more days, the moldy masses are dried in the sun and ready to use or store until use.



Wrapped corn masses cooking on the fire.





Mauricia Vargas and her family, along with Fabian Pacheco, my wonderful host in Costa Rica who took me to meet them.


I participated in the initial wrapping stage only and was sent off with a couple of the wrapped corn masses to age as they described. When I first examined the corn masses after four days, mold growth was patchy. By color and by smell, I could recognize some of the mold as Aspergillus mold like those I have grown many times on rice and barley to make koji. But it showed green mold as well, indicating more than a single type of mold. Four days later, mold covered most, but still not all the surface. Some of the molds were long and hairy and clearly were sporulating. I did not remain in Costa Rica long enough to complete the process or make chicha with the oko, nor did I dare try to bring it home with me, to complete the process or send it to a lab for analysis.



Molds growth after four days.


Mold growth after nine days.


Even in this one family, there are many ways of making chicha. Most are made without the moldy oko starter. We had delicious (and strong) chicha made by removing the steamed and cooled corn masses from the leaves (without the molding process), mixing them together into a paste in a bucket, allowing this paste to ferment in a solid state for several days, then adding water and sugar and allowing the liquid to ferment for a few more days. We were also served a chicha made by adding steamed bananas to the corn paste, allowing that to ferment in a solid state, then mixing that with water immediately prior to serving. They also described chicha made with cacao and corn. Clearly chicha is not a single uniform product but rather a range of corn-based beverages, some only mildly alcoholic, others stronger. The chichas prepared without the moldy oko require sugar or bananas for fermentable simple sugars; the oko is necessary only for chicha made from just corn and water, so that the amylase enzymes from the molds can break down the starchy corn into fermentable sugars.

Due to the fact that I was not there long enough to see the process in its entirety, along with the limitations of our communications and translation, this is certainly not a comprehensive or definitive account. But because nothing (that I have come across in the English language literature) has been written about this, and because of its apparent uniqueness in the Western hemisphere, I thought it was important to share this information, incomplete as it may be. Was this practice the result of an accidental discovery, as so many fermentation processes are, with similar molds developing on grains here as across Asia? Or was there perhaps some past Asian influence here, long forgotten? The origins of fermentation practices are always shrouded in mystery. But over and over we see patterns repeated, with microbial phenomenon manifesting similarly (and at the same time uniquely) in disparate locations. Molded grains for alcohol in Central America is very exciting.

Best Fake Rolex Sale and Replica Rolex

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Romanian Fermented Whole Cabbage Process

I received an email from Scott in Michigan, with photos and a description of the process of fermenting whole heads of cabbage, as he observed it in Romania. See below for photos.

“I was dating a Romanian girl a couple years ago, which was my first introduction to good living. Our trips to the mountains and our visits to relatives of relatives who quite literally lived by their own two hands, and wasted nothing, changed my whole world view.”
“This is a series of pictures her mother sent me of her method for making ‘Romanian sauerkraut’ or Sour Cabbage. It’s made this way so the leaves remain whole for wrapping the Christmas ‘sarmale.’ A traditional Christmas staple of pork and cabbage. Absolutely amazing results. The best fermented cabbage I’ve ever had by far. I ate so much of this the months I spent there.”

“I do not know the exact herbs but they are not exotic, and the odd looking fruit is quince … the others are obviously horseradish and normal corn. They use the spigot to release the liquid created at regular intervals. The core of the cabbages are removed, then packed with salt… It is weighted down with 2 wood slats and a stone, then covered with the lid.”

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Adzuki Bean Spritzer

adzuki bean spritzer002“Rhubarb heaven.”

“Fruit punch, with hints of pomegranate.”

“An exciting alternative to champagne.”

“Very fruity with the perfect sweet/sour balance.”

“Pairs well with chocolate.”

I served this drink to friends tonight, and that’s what they had to say about it. (Then I told them what it was.)

This odd ferment is the liquid reserved from boiling adzuki beans.  I often cook beans to make either miso paste or tempeh.  And I usually drain the beans and discard the liquid. Lately I decided to ferment this liquid (juice, water, not sure what to call it) as it seems to contain lots of flavor and solids from cooking the beans.  I let the liquid cool, then inoculate it with  a couple tablespoons of juice from a batch of kimchee.  I put it in a growler and top it with an airlock.

This batch is 3 months old.  Lots of solids settle to the bottom, and a fair amount of coagulate floats to the surface.  And in between is clear delicious fruity drink.

There is nothing about this beverage that even hints of beans. It is amazingly light, fruity and delicious, which is surprising considering what it’s made of. (Serve with dark chocolate with almonds and sea salt.)

Takuan – the transformation of a radish.

sliced takuanTakuan is fermented daikon radish. Packed whole in rice bran and salt and left to transform into one of the most delicate and luscious foods I’ve tasted.  I know that’s a strong statement, but in my experience, radishes are anything but delicate.  Delicious, but often with a strong bite and a bitter aftertaste. I expected a bit more crunch, but what I got was a softer texture, more akin to rare tenderloin beef stake. And then, a lingering sweetness, with just a hint of alcohol on the palette.

The process is all explained in Sandor’s latest book, The Art of Fermentation.

in the sun to dry[A side note: I visited Sandor a year and a half ago, and while in his studio, I noticed a crock on the shelf with Takuan written on it. I inquired, and he opened it up and retrieved a pickle from within.  After that first taste, I knew I’d be making a batch of my own.]

It’s a pretty simple process, and no chopping.

I purchased 80 lbs of whole tops-on radishes from a local food co-op.  I washed them to remove sand, and then put them on boards in the direct sun for about 1 week.  At that time I could bend the largest ones in a circle easily, and with no breaking.

packing the crock





I purchased and used pre-made pickling mix from a nearby Asian food market and followed the directions in Sandor’s book.  I drank saké while I packed the crock, and occasionally splashed a shot or two in the layer of radishes








filled to the brimI filled the crock then added the dry radish tops. Placed a plate and weight (which was a exceedingly large concrete cinder block).












To my amazement, the layers of radish and bran dropped nearly 6 inches under the weight of the block, and filled with brine. (I regret never tasting the brine, as it would likely by delicious.) Over the course of the year, the brine evaporated leaving a dark, somewhat sticky layer on the plate.



When I lifted the weight and plate, the tops of the radishes were still very much intact.  I had expected a brown layer of sludge at best. But the old radish tops were there, very much looking like radish tops, and with the aroma of fresh humus, mowed alfalfa hay, and alcohol.  They taste pretty good, too.

whole takuan


But the radish is really the gem in the crock: Very aromatic, golden nutty color, so wonderful on the palette, and so unlike the radish that I started with.

In addition to the great tasting pickle, in my research I learned that the Journal of Nutrition reports that Takuan has 7 times more vitamin B than fresh raw daikon.



Here’s the brand of pickling mix I used.

rice bran mix

Tomato Salsa with Garlic, Scallion and Chervil


bowl of salsaI had an excess of very ripe tomatoes last week. I diced about 3 pints (chop), and salted lightly, about 2 large pinches (salt), and then allowed it to ferment in a ceramic vessel (pack) for 2 days (wait). (Remember the four steps in a basic lacto-ferment? chop, salt, pack, wait.)

I stirred 2 or 3 times daily so the common mold that easily forms on fermenting tomatoes couldn’t get organized sufficient to colonize the top of the ferment.  After 2 days I drained off the liquid.  (I put the liquid in a bottle with a swing top lid and capped it. Though first I topped the bottle with some extra kimchee juice i had in the fridge. I’ll let this juice ferment in the bottle a couple weeks, then enjoy it as shots, or in a Bloody Mary cocktail.)

Fermenting the salsa longer than this would have reduced the chunkiness of the salsa, moving it more toward sauce, and I wanted chunky salsa.

salsa with chipI crushed a couple cloves of garlic, sliced a few scallions, and chopped a handful of fresh chervil, and stirred these ingredients into the salsa, in addition to some fermented hot sauce for heat. I then let it sit in the fridge a day before I enjoyed it.  It’s bubbly, zingy on the tongue, and very delicious.