Red currants – the jewels of summer


Red currants are usually a Christmas time treat with their most appropriate Santa Claus  colour but they will be all over by Christmas this year.  I love to pick one or two as I pass to get their pop of tart sweetness.


Unfortunately so do the local birds!   You need to net the bushes because one day you look at them and say harvest day tomorrow,  but when tomorrow comes there is not a currant left. I accidentally discovered in my previous garden a way to trick the birds.  I planted them rather too close to an area where I had planted native shrubs.  I thought I would have to move them because they would not ripen out of full sun, but I discovered hidden behind a Corokia hedge ladden boughs of untouched red currants ready to eat.


I decided my first harvest of 2017 would be used for a special pancake breakfast that included red currants and my total harvest of gooseberries!  I have posted about pancakes before but I wanted to try a Stephanie Alexander’s  recipe to see if I could perfect my pancakes..and the result – incredibly light pancakes.  The addition of red currants made them even better.  ( I have made as per usual some changes but you have the option below of following Stephanie’s recipe without my suggested changes).

Fluffy Buttermilk/Milk Kefir Pancakes with Red Currants

(makes about 12)

3-4 eggs at room temperature, separated

60 g of melted butter (I use a cold pressed local rapeseed or avocado oil)

2 cups of buttermilk or milk kefir (I always replace buttermilk in recipes for kefir – it works just the same)

2 cups plain flour (1 soaked half a cup of rolled oats overnight and used 1½+ cups of flour)

1 tsp  salt*

1 tsp baking soda

1 cup of red currants – (you can use black currants but I would macerate them in 2 Tbsp of caster sugar because they are more tart)

*We found these pancakes just a smidge too salty, although the salt and no added sugar in the pancake batter works really well with summer berries.  Next time I would use ½-¾ tsp of salt. *

Have your oven on at 100ºC with your oven proof serving dish warming ready for the pancakes.


Put separated egg yolks into a large mixing bowl.


Add buttermilk/kefir and whisk well. Add the soaked oats (optional).


Sift flour, salt and baking soda over the egg yolk mixture and fold in with a large metal spoon.


The batter should be of a thick, dropping consistency. (I did have to add a little more flour in mine because the soaked oats made the mix thinner.) I always add the butter or oil last before folding in the egg whites because pancakes can become tough if the butter is overworked.

20171203_085700When ready to start cooking fold in the egg whites.  I start this process with a little of the whisked egg whites folded in first – to pave the way and lighten the batter mix before adding the rest of the egg whites that have been whisked to form soft peaks.


Stephanie adds the fruit she used (400g hulled and sliced strawberries and 300g of blueberries) and she mixed them in at the batter stage. I wanted to make sure my ripe red currants were kept as whole as possible so added them by folding into the aerated mix after the whites have been added.

The best way to cook pancakes is in a cast iron pan because the heat is not patchy. This traditional skillet with no edges usually used for making piklets is ideal.  If you are lucky enough to own one of these or a cast iron crepe pan then that is ideal, just because it makes it easier to flip the pancakes.   But any cast iron pan is great.  The trickiest part of the pancake operation is getting the pan to just the right temperature.  It’s especially tricky on a gas hob.  Test with a baby pancake. Smear butter or oil on the surface and once to the right heat pour spoonfuls of batter onto your pan to make the size of pancake you like.  Once bubbles start bursting on top, it’s time to flip them over.


Once cooked stack onto the plate in the oven.


The sauce I made came from my rather small gooseberry harvest.  Into a pot I melted about 1 tbsp of butter, added the gooseberries and sugar to taste (about ¼ cup from memory).  To make the gooseberries really hum I added about a tbsp of my last year’s Elderflower cordial because gooseberries and elderflowers are a perfect match.  You really fry the fruit until it becomes juicy as it cooks with the sugar.  I used the potato masher to crush the cooked berries to create a thick sauce.  Stephanie made a sauce the same way using 1 cup of mixed berries, 20g butter and 1 tbsp of maple syrup.


We shared our pancake breakfast with our friends Jan and Wal from Christchurch. Jan did the busy job of cooking the pancakes and Wal sliced a chilled mango to enjoy with our breakfast.  The mangos come in every year before Christmas from Queensland and are the best we are likely to find in the shops all year, so I am passing on this information and thanks to Wal will be hunting out the Queensland mangos for Christmas.

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Red currant summer jewels are here for such a short time but they do freeze well and I have saved some to share with the family over the holidays with a pancake breakfast.

Mom’s crescent Christmas cookies

These biscuits/cookies are a nutty shortbread rolled in icing sugar and are a divine texture and flavour – perfect to enjoy over Christmas or to give as a gift.

 Lea Werner with a tin of Christmas crescent biscuits.

My friend Lea used to live in the United States and every Christmas makes her Mom’s Christmas crescent cookies. As a child Lea’s job was shaping the dough into the crescent shape so as with a lot of Christmas baking, these crescent cookies bring back fond childhood memories for Lea. She is being generous and is sharing the recipe with us. They are so delicious!


With such a traditional recipe I thought Lea wouldn’t be keen to experiment but she was excited at the idea of trying different nuts in the recipe and making our baking day a bit of an experiment. Nuts play a major part in the flavour and texture of the cookie and the original recipe had pecan nuts because they are plentiful in the US.

Here in NZ they are both difficult to find and expensive.  Lea suggested walnuts as a substitute and I have found a great source of fresh hazelnuts…so we conducted an experiment trying all three nuts; pecans, walnuts and hazelnuts. We also experimented with the shape.


Mom’s crescent Christmas cookies

Makes approx 50 to share 

Cook at 200°C for 15-20 mins (180°C for fan forced ovens)

2 Cups Pecans, walnuts or hazelnuts (ground fairly finely but a few little larger bits are okay)

4 cups Flour

350 grams Butter (softened)

¾ cup Sugar

Icing Sugar

We dry roasted the hazelnuts for a few minutes to remove the skins and keep the biscuits a light colour.  Remove the skins by rubbing the nuts between two pieces of kitchen paper. It’s okay if there are some bits of skin left.

Here we grounded 2/3 cup of each variety of nut for our experiment.

Grind the nuts in a food processor so that they become finely ground but still have some crunchy pieces in the mix.

Handy Hint:  get the butter out and soften slowly on the bench so that its soft but not melted

These biscuits are not a low calorie option lots of butter and nuts but this is also why they taste so good.

Lea was given this KitchenAid cake mixer as a wedding shower present from her mother-in-law 46 years ago…and it hasn’t missed a beat!

Work butter into the flour (using mixer or hands).

Handy Hint: cover the mixer with a tea towel until the butter gets incorporated to avoid the flour spraying all over the place.


Add sugar and combine.


Add the ground nuts. Work into a soft dough. It doesn’t all come together like a pastry dough or shortbread – it’s quite crumbly.

The mixing part of the process is really easy and quick.  The time consuming part is shaping the cookies.  Just like Lea’s Mom, you could encourage either your child or grandchild to help with this task.


20161207_121853Take one heaped dessert spoon full of mix and put into the cup of your hand.


Squeeze and the warmth of your hand will allow the butter to soften further and shaping can begin.


Shape into small horseshoes or half moons.

We found the pecan and hazelnuts were the same to mould into the crescent shape but the walnuts must have a higher oil content so were very easy to shape.


Bake at 200o C until very light brown (about 15-20 min.)  Check the undersides to make sure they are slightly browned.

We tried making bite sized round cookies with a single nut on top but the nuts didn’t stick in the relatively dry mix.  It was handy for us though to identify each batch.

Cool on a wire rack.


When cool toss them gently in a small plastic bag filled with icing sugar.


Coat 2-3 at a time so they don’t break.


Gently shake with your hand under them, lifting and tipping the bag so that they are all coated with icing sugar.


Store in an airtight container and Lea lines her Christmas tin with plastic wrap because they aren’t as airtight as plastic…but they look so much better presented in a tin.


They last a week or two (if you can resist them!) They also freeze well


So if you live in Otago you can get great hazelnuts from Roy Johnston at at $23/kg.

After the tasting …we both agreed that the hazelnuts were the winner. Perhaps this is because I sourced nuts that had just been cracked from a local South Otago orchard.  Hazelnuts and walnuts both grow well in the south and I suggest for these biscuits choose the nut variety that is the freshest (not long out of its shell) and the most cost effective.

Here we are at the start of the cookie making and Lea has some pecans she stores in the freezer.  If not using straight away it’s a good idea to store them in the freezer as nuts go rancid very quickly.

It has been a first for me to do Christmas baking with a friend and it was so much fun that Lea and I have decided to do so again next year.

I wish everyone who reads my blog a very merry and delicious Christmas. x Jeannie