Snowflakes and Schnapps by Jane Lawson

Baby it's cold outside!

By Robyn Lewis
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Snowflakes and Schnapps by Jane Lawson

Snowflakes and Schnapps by Jane Lawson [©Murdoch Books]


Jane Lawson is an unashamed fan of winter and often wonders what fate led her from her European ancestry to live and cook in humid Sydney. So the start of the Australian and NZ ski season is perfect timing to pick up a copy of her Snowflakes and Schnapps, full of recipes from northern Europe so suited to long cold nights, roaring fires and slow cooking.

Lawson has travelled widely through Europe, collecting as she went traditional recipes from Germany, Austria, Hungary, Russia, Sweden, Denmark and more, which in turn inspire the recipes in Snowflakes and Schnapps, albeit with a modern take. She has cooked since age eight, worked as a chef and written five other cookbooks, and is currently the Publisher-Food at Murdoch Books, so is well qualified for the task.

Little wonder then that the book is such a visual feast; Murdoch Books have been producing some beauties lately and this is no exception, starting with the tactile cover. Snuggle up by the fire with a glass of wine in one hand, and expect to be transported. My ancestry is Scottish so I don’t relate to this style of cuisine straight away, but I’m quickly hooked by the lure of caraway, dill and beetroot in new guises.

Lots of hearty soups, melted cheeses and even dumplings have been resurrected from the past and given a light new touch (no suet here). I can’t quite work out the order of the recipes as they move from soups to nuts back to soups again, but hey, the fire’s crackling, the photos are great and if I weren’t so cosy I’d be scouring the pantry for ingredients for warm apple toddy or buttered balsam. The elderflower, gin and lemon sipper sounds ideal for après-ski and post-trout-fishing in the highlands.

The follows a section on winter breakfasts – no Spartan oatmeal here – which via buckwheat kasha with dilled mushrooms segues into one-pot dishes. Forget the Miele, this is slow-cooker territory, or a cast-iron pot on the slow combustion stove. Osso bucco with saffron risotto? Bring it on. Living as I do on a farm with a never-ending supply of wild rabbit, the rabbit in red wine with spinach canederli sounds delicious, too. The latter are basically thick pasta made from bread and in this case flavoured with spinach, and sound as easy as spaetzle, a sort of easy home-made Germanic noodle which I make frequently in winter and all the family love.

In publishing as in cooking, timing is of the essence – with the AusMas season coming on, who could resist the roast turkey with chestnut stuffing and vin santo sauce – or the hunter’s stew with its duck, pork, venison, beef and sausages? Snowflakes and Schnapps should do well in the British winter, too.

But it’s not all hearty rural fare – the section ‘Diamonds and Furs’ advises to dress up and regale your guests with grilled oysters with cauliflower custard and caviar, squab with red wine and cabbage risotto, liquorice lamb and venison stroganoff, and spaetzle cooked in beetroot juice and served with poached veal. Fusion cooking this is not.

It’s pleasing to see recipes involving beer, wine and spirits – even salmon gets a red wine sauce. Yet again, however, I find myself yearning for some wine suggestions, for until the dishes are cooked it is hard to estimate the ‘weight’, which primarily influences the style of wine to select. But this is not sauvignon blanc territory; most dishes would work well with reds, from pinot noir to cabernet or shiraz – or beer – although somehow the Italian grape varieties don’t spring to mind, so suited are they to more Mediterranean herbs, garlic and tomatoes. (Indeed there is hardly a tomato in the book, and no olive oil but lashings of butter, cream and mascarpone). Dishes with creamier sauces might be well complemented by a rich chardonnay, and of course sparkling wines with 'diamonds and furs'.

Indeed, Snowflakes and Schnapps is a refreshing change from all things Mediterranean, and it will greatly please those from more northern climes to see their culinary heritage dusted off and given a fresh new look, with such an elegant and evocative presentation. For cooks and chefs who want to venture beyond cucina Italiana and to make the most of winter at home, it’s a worthy addition to the cookbook collection and should inspire much creativity.

Snowflakes and Schnapps by Jane Lawson
is published by Murdoch Books (Sydney; May 2009), RRP HB A$69.95 (UK £25), PB (June 2010) A$49.95. Subscribers and Members of and Winepros Archive can purchase the hardback of Snowflakes and Schnapps from our book partners Seekbooks at 12.5% discount off RRP (postage extra) or the paperback copy


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May 30th, 2009
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