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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

I can’t remember a Christmas Day meal when there hasn’t been a Christmas pudding served.  As a child I would always feel the pudding was the anti-climax of the whole day, as it was my least favorite of the Christmas fare, not being a big fan of anything that contained dried fruit.  The only reason I eagerly agreed to a slice, was the hope of winning the hidden gold coin.  My mother would always put a gold sovereign in the pudding.  Over the years it dawned on me that this task was always done in the kitchen, followed by the warm brandy being poured over with my mother carrying it to the table before setting light to it.  The concentration my mother exerted over this task was not the fear of dropping the said pudding but to keep a vigilant eye on where the sovereign was embedded.    It has taken many years to realise the whole thing was fixed and my chances of ever winning the much sought after coin were nil.  My mother like a magician had full control of where the coin was and who would win it.  Trusted family members and my father were high on the list.  Needless to say, after the meal, the coin would be whisked away, and no doubt put in a safe place until the following year.

My tastes have changed and matured over the years and I have perfected my own recipe, without suet.   This makes the pudding much lighter.  Instead of the traditional brandy butter I prefer a large  helping of clotted cream  Gold sovereigns are not so plentiful these days so I have replaced it with silver sixpences which I have no idea where in the pudding it is and who ever wins them gets to keep them.  I wrap each one is silver foil for hygiene and push them into the pudding just before serving, and each year there is a fresh batch of coins.

Christmas pudding

I usually make this around September to give it time to mature but I have also left it the week before Christmas.

Ingredients

50 gm/2 oz blanched almonds

50 gm/2 oz walnuts

50 gm/2 oz brazil nuts

75 gm/3 oz carrots

75 gm/3 oz pitted no soak prunes

125 gm/4 oz butter

1 lemon

125 gm/4oz soft dark brown sugar

2 eggs beaten

350 gm/12 oz mixture of seedless raisins, currants and sultanas (I don’t always put 125 gm/4 oz of each in I sometimes put more of one fruit depending what I have in the cupboard, as long as the total weight is 350 gm).

25 gm/ 1 oz chopped glace cherries

50 gm/ 2 oz fresh brown breadcrumbs

125 gm/ 4 oz wholemeal plain flour

50 gm/ 2 oz white plain flour

15ml/ 1 level tablespoon mixed ground spice

200 ml/ 7 floz Guinness

30 ml/ 2 tbs brandy

30 ml/ 2 level tbs black treacle (leave a tablespoon in a cup of boiling water before measuring out, the treacle will slip off the spoon).

Method

  1. Roughly chop all the nuts, either in a food processor or by hand.  Coarsely grate the carrots and cut the prunes into small pieces, this is much easier to do if you use scissors.
  2. Beat the butter and lemon rind until soft then gradually beat in the sugar followed by the beaten eggs.  Mix in all the remaining ingredients and stir well.  At this point our family tradition is that each person comes and gives the pudding a stir and makes a wish.  When the stirring is complete cover and leave in a cool place overnight – NOT the fridge.
  3. The following day grease a 2 ½ – 2 ¾ pint (1.4-1.6 litre) heatproof pudding basin this is to make it easier for the pudding to come out after cooking.  Beat the pudding mixture again and spoon it into the basin.  To cover, cut a piece of grease proof paper and a piece of foil, place these on top of each other and fold a central pleat down the centre, place this over the top of the pudding and tie securely. After years of struggling with bits of string slipping, I like to use a strong elastic band.
  4. Steam the pudding for about 6 hours in a large saucepan filled with enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the basin.  Do not stand the basin directly in the pan put it on top of an upturned plate, – cover and boil for about 4 hours, checking that the water has not boiled dry and if needed top up with boiling water from the kettle (as I like to make several pudding I use my fish kettle).  When done cool the pudding completely and re-cover the basin with fresh greaseproof paper and foil securing with a fresh elastic band and refrigerate for up to 2 months.  Some say that left in a cool place the pudding will last from one year to the next.  Although its not essential (but it adds to the whole Christmas traditional theme) I cover the cooked pudding when cooled with a square of muslin tied with a handle so its easy on Christmas day to put into the steamer and lift out but this is optional.
  5. On the day of eating, steam the pudding for about 3 hours, then turn out onto a warm serving plate.  Warm about 60 ml/ 4 tbs brandy in a small saucepan and pour over the pudding and set alight. The warming helps the brandy to light.  Depending on the year I sometimes dispense with the flaming brandy and replace it with sparklers or an indoor fountain firework.  These last a little bit longer.  The pudding can be served with either brandy butter, brandy cream or my choice of clotted cream.

If there is any pudding left over, I wrap it up in silver foil and put it in the fridge until Boxing day when we slice it up and  warm it through by putting a generous amount of butter into a frying pan and frying it.  Again served with some clotted cream.

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Kourabiethes are a Greek biscuit, made at Christmas, Easter and Weddings.  The texture is very much like shortbread with the addition of brandy and almonds. These biscuits have been made for generations and there are so many variations of the recipe.

I use my great grandmother’s recipe.  I like the thought that a hundred years on I am re-creating her recipes, which no doubt she took from her mother, and so it continues.  I don’t think when she was writing the recipes down, she would ever imagine that her book would be read and treasured and her recipes cooked in an English kitchen.  What she wouldn’t know is how much I struggled with translating her writing and in places her lack of instruction!  I am guilty myself of writing the recipe down in a shorthand style.

In the picture the Kourabiethes sit on her plates and so without too much imagination I can guess that those plates have seen kourabiethes many times in the past.  What we eat is so important to keep us alive and healthy but it has many facets, the saying food for the soul is a very true phrase.  These biscuits are for me food for my soul and a thin golden thread that links me into a past and a tradition.

The biscuits are normally made in a small domed bun shape or a crescent shape.  I have read somewhere that is this is because during the Turkish occupation of Greece, the Turks insisted that the biscuits be cut in a crescent to represent their flag.  I just don’t know if this is true .

I have made some changes to the original recipe.  Firstly I didn’t soak the almonds in cold water overnight and I didn’t beat the butter and sugar for 2 hours.  What I did do is use the K beater on the Kenwood.  Is it any wonder these biscuits were saved for extra special occasions, there must have been some pretty strong biceps around!

Kourabiethes

Ingredients

300 gms/ 10 oz unsalted butter at room temperature

110 gms/ 3oz Icing sugar

120 gms/ 4 oz almonds skinned and chopped.  For a better flavour either roast them in the oven or in a pan, I prefer the pan method, toss them in a dry frying pan until they start to take on some colour, remove and leave to cool.

25 gms/  2floz/56ml Brandy (this is optional, you can use vanilla extract or even orange juice)

600 gms/ 1 lb 5 oz  plain flour

½ tablespoon baking powder

Method

Put the softened butter into a bowl (if possible a Kenwood or similar) and add the icing sugar, beat for 20 minutes, the longer you beat the crisper the biscuit.

After 20 minutes the butter will have become very pale and creamy, add the brandy, then add the flour, ground almonds and baking powder and mix slowly until a dough has been formed.  When touched it should not stick to your hand if it does continue to mix a little longer.

Taking a spoonful at a time, roll in your hands lightly into a ball and place onto a lined baking tray flattening them a little.  To make sure all the biscuits cook evenly  weigh each ball as you form the biscuits  (30gms per biscuit is fine – I made mine 35 gms).

Place in the middle of the oven Gas mark 3/160 for 20-30 minutes (in my oven I cooked the biscuits for 35 mins) until they just start to take on some colour.

When cooked remove the biscuits and cool.  To serve either put icing sugar in a bowl and toss biscuits in until completely covered or sprinkle icing sugar on with a sieve.  These biscuits keep really well in an airtight container but leave the icing until they are ready to serve.  Saying that all the biscuits I have had made for me and sent in the post have all been coated in icing and taste lovely – its up to you.

The rumour is that kept in an airtight container they can last up to three months, I have never managed to keep them more than two weeks, they get eaten.

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