Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category


Well, one can deny it no longer: the season is upon us.  The season of snowdrifts and blizzards and brilliant blue skies.  The season of children throwing snowballs at each other and throwing themselves down hills on toboggans and sleighs.  The season of hot, mulled apple cider; of long, lazy evenings spent adrift on the couch in front of the blazing fire and the season of baking to beat all baking.  The kitchen here at lick your own bowl has been a beautiful scene of domestic industry the last few weeks.  I find that even people who don’t usually do any baking will pop a batch off cookies in the oven at this time of year.  I love the baking, even after a week in the kitchen mixing and rolling and washing, when my shoulders are tender and my back is aching.  Last year I stuck to fairly traditional Christmas cookies: gingerbread men, peanut butter cookies, molasses drops and choc orange harlequins.  This year I decided to mix it up a little and add a bit of Grown-up to the mix.  I made Italian Amaretti, Spiced chocolate sandwiches with cinnamon and chili and Pepparkakors.  I also whipped up a batch of mice pies from Nigella Lawson’s ‘Domestic Goddess’ and a batch of mini apple tarts in a cheddar pastry for our Christmas party.

I do love the Christmas/Holiday/Winter season.  Whatever your roots and however you like to celebrate it you have to admit that if you take advantage of all the season has to offer you can not help but love it.  Living in a foreign country with no family near by has brought me to the conclusion that this season is very much what you make of it.  Am I going to let a silly thing like being far from home stop me from Christmassing myself and those around me ’till the cows come home?  I think not. And part of that is either creating your own new traditions, or continuing on those that have been with you since childhood.

When I was a little girl my grandmother used to live with us.  Aren’t I lucky?  Well, more than you know!  While the granny-flat my grandparents lived in didn’t have a big old kitchen, and granny didn’t do an awful lot of baking in it, at Christmas time there would be cookies galore and most important of all, a few, big Christmas Puddings hanging above the window waiting for the day we each got a bowl of the warm, sticky, sweet pud and tucked through it to find the hidden coins somewhere in there.  Some of us children (and there was an entire gang of us on Christmas day) didn’t really like the more adult flavours of the pudding, but boy, that didn’t stop any of us if there was money to be found!  Now, I haven’t resurrected that particular little gem of a tradition before, but by golly a Christmas dinner is just not a Christmas dinner without a pudding.

I asked my Mom if she still had the original recipe for the pudding, but life being what it is, it has gotten lost in the drift of various house moves and general life.  After much research and a kind gift of a recipe from a honest-to-goodness British family friend, I concocted a new recipe that I’m hoping will be made for many years to come.

So, a few things about Christmas pudding: I’ve found that the Canadians I’ve encountered so far don’t really know what to do with a Christmas pud.  I gave a bunch of little ones away last year as gifts, with illustrated instructions, and you can imagine my horror when I discovered that all were thrown away because (a) nobody knew just what to do with the pud (b) the instructions seemed too foreign and (c) they all figured that after a week/month of the pud sitting in the cupboard it would surely no longer be any good.  Oh my.  I still have one small pudding in my cupboard that I saved from last year, religiously sprinkling with brandy every now and again, that I intend to eat with the gleeful Mr P on boxing day.  Le sigh.

Now, you can pop off to your local deli/gourmande and pic up a ready made little plastic tub of pud, which you could nook on the day.  And take all the joy out of it while you’re about it.  Look, it really isn’t that difficult a thing to make and once you’ve done it once you’ll wonder why you ever thought it a chore.  So, in the hope that it will encourage a few  folks out there to make their own this year, I set out a little photo essay on making Christmas Pud.

I’m not going to give you the recipe this year, just the basic technique. There are plenty of good recipes out there.  I like the ones that use Guinness, or some other dark stout, and I like to use a lot of different types of dried fruit, not just raisins, currants and dates.  I particularly like dried cherries, blueberries, apricots, cranberries and lots of dried figs.  The hardest part is the mixing of the pud, which does take a little elbow grease, but traditionally a family lets everyone have a stir, making a wish while doing so, to impart all the joy and hopes of each family member onto the pud (sweet, huh?) so it can be a lot less work, and more fun that way.

Once the batter is all mixed up, you divvy it out into pudding basins (I prefer the cream ceramic ones, but glass or plastic will do if that’s what you have), seal the bowls with a layer of foil and parchment, and steam for 6 – 8 hours.  Once the puds are steamed, you uncover them, prick holes all the way through with a skewer and tipple a little brandy or rum over the top, reseal the puds and put in the cupboard.  Once a week you can open them up and check, tipple a little more brandy/rum and reseal.  You can (in fact, you should) make these babies well in advance to let the flavours develop.  I use these as my introduction to Christmas baking, making them up towards the mid/end of November, but you can make them as early as October if you like.  They last as long as you can bear to not eat them, just keep checking them once in a while (about once a month or so is fine) and keep adding a little alcohol to the top.

The easiest way to steam a pud is in a pot with an upside down saucer on the bottom, with water coming half way up the pudding basin sides.  With the stove on a low setting, a and a very, very gentle simmer going on, you can happily leave the puds steaming merrily away for the 6 – 8 hours while you carry on with life en general.  On the day you want to eat them, they do require a further steaming of around 2 hours before serving.

I unmould the pudding onto the serving plate, top with a sprig of holly and flambe with some brandy/vodka at the table.  Traditionally one would serve it with brandy butter, but I personally find this too rich and prefer plain, whipped cream.

Fill your pudding basin, leaving about an inch to the rim:


Layer a piece of foil over a piece of baking parchment, large enough to cover the top of the pudding basin with a good two inch over hang.  Fold a pleat down the middle so there’s space for steam and pudding to expand while steaming:


Cover the basin firmly:


Cut a piece of kitchen string long enough to wrap around the top of the basin four times.  Now wrap the string around the basin, under the rim, twice and secure with a knot, leaving a long piece of string, like a tail:


Pull the ‘tail’ back over the top of the basin, giving a little slack:


Tie the tail firmly to the string wrapped under the rim, to create a handle:


Now you ca safely lift the pudding into and out of the pot for steaming.  Trim the overhanging foil/parchment to a bit less than an inch.

When you’ve steamed the pudding, remove the cover, skewer and tipple with your choice of booze and allow to cool.  When cool, recover (you may want to cut new seals, with the pleat and all, if the first ones were ruined in the steaming) and retie the string.  I leave the handle tieing until the day I want to steam them again, so that I can more easily unseal them to add some brandy.

Here’s wishing you all a very merry, safe and warm holiday season wherever you may be.  May you be well fed and a little plumper at the end of it all.


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Fruitcake Bread and butter pud 1

Somehow, after all’s been said and done, after all the post-fest pickings and snackings and nibblings, there remains a large piece of Fruit Cake from the Christmas feasting, sitting sleepily on the counter. Now, I realise that fruit cake and Christmas Pud will keep until the next Snowy Season (indeed, traditionally, the top tier of a wedding cake is kept safe and sound for the celebration of the Christening of the first chile) but in all honesty, who would want to eat last year’s fruit cake, thrifty though it may be? One, surely, wants to experience the joy of Christmas baking afresh every year, non? Besides, isn’t it enough already? Out with the old to make way for the new, is my motto this week. My cupboard is starting to feel like that one house on the corner which keeps it’s Christmas lights up until the middle of February. I have a bit here and a bob there left over (still!) from the revelries of the fattening season and they must go, people! Fruit Cake, piles of odds and ends in the dried fruit ‘n nuts department and a quarter jar of boozy fruit mincemeat, as well as one last little Christmas Pud, which somehow escaped being given away or eaten at home. It’s time for the Christmas Spring clean.

Fruitcake Bread and butter pud 2

Christmas Fruit Cake Bread and Butter Pudding

4 – 6 slices fruit cake (or any other robust left over cakeiness)
4 Tbsp fruit mincemeat
Butter, about 2 Tbsp
1 egg
1 cup milk

-Preheat the oven to 325˚F and butter a 500ml pudding bowl (or a casserole if you prefer)

– beat the egg with the milk in a small bowl

– arrange slices of fruit cake in the dish, then dollop teaspoons of mincemeat around the slices.

– dot with butter and pour over the eggy milk mixture. Sprinkle with Nutmeg

– let the pudding sit for about 3 minutes before baking in the oven for 40 mins

– enjoy with cream or custard, preferable in front of a happy little fire with your feet on the coffee table. Mmmm. Leftovers.

Fruitcake Bread and butter pud 3

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Pizza rustica 1

Hello? Why, Hello! It’s been such a while since I last saw you, have you changed your hair? Yes, as you’ve no doubt guessed, life has been busy. But when isn’t it, and is that ever excuse enough for complete and utter neglect? I think not. Be that as it may, I have been somewhat distracted by other tasks, though here I am again, cooking it up and sharing what I can. Right! Lets get this year on the road! Lets finally, three weeks in, Whoop it up for 2008. Hope it’s cooking.

As a little make-up kiss, I give you a dish that sets my mouth to watering every time I think about it. It’s a dish that’s rich and warm and comforting and the perfect meal for that lazy, hazy, feet on the couch time between Christmas Feasting and New Year Bashing. Also, note to self for next year, would be perfect as a New Year Day Bash Recovery Unit. The recipe is from that Matron of the Mixing Bowl, Nigella, though I tinkered here and adapted there to come up with something better suited to a Dutch Father-in-law and a bacon-loving Mother-in-law. Also, I might add with a pat on my own back, I had enough foresight to pre-make the pastry during my initial Christmas Baking Bonanza in mid-December, which took a lot of the effort out on the day. Handy when you’re trying to keep guests vaguely entertained at the same time as cook up a brunch.

*Use a 23cm Springform Pan to make the pie.

Pizza rustica 2

Pizza Rustica a la Paesi Bassi

For the Pastry:
250g plain flour
1 stick (125g) butter, cold, cut into 1cm pieces
2 egg yolks
2 Tbsp iced water
1 heaped tsp salt
1 Tbsp caster sugar

For the filling:
75g Luganega (Italian Pork Sausage)
1 Tbsp Olive oil
250g ricotta, drained
50g smoked provolone, diced
125g dutch Gouda, diced
50g freshly grated parmesan
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp Italian Parsley, finely chopped
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
2 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
100g mortadello, chopped
2 eggs, lightly beaten
freshly ground black pepper
1 heaped Tbsp dry breadcrumbs

For the glaze:
1 egg yolk
2Tbsp milk

large pinch fleur de sel

Make the pastry:
– put the flour and butter in a dish in the freezer for 10 minutes. While this is chilling, mix the egg yolks, water and salt in a small bowl.

– When the butter is thoroughly chilled, add the sugar to the bowl and rub the butter into the flour and sugar until it resembles something between damp sand and oats porridge. Little lumps of butter are a good thing, you don’t want to overwork the butter into the flour.

– Add the egg/water mix and gently mix with your hands until the dough just comes together. It should still be a somewhat loose and crumble.

– Tip the pastry out and work it together with your hands to form one lump, more or less. Divide the dough into two parts: one slightly larger than the other. Wrap each in cling wrap and refrigerate.

Make the filling:
– Place a baking tray in the oven and pre-heat it to 400˚F

– Skin the Luganega, heat the oil in a skillet and fry the sausage meat for about 5 minutes, breaking it up as you cook it. Allow to cool

– Mix all the ingredients, including luganega, except the bread crumbs in a large bowl until well combined.

– Roll out the larger of the pastries to line the bottom and sides of your greased springform pan, allowing for an overhang. Sprinkle the bottom of the pastry wit the dried bread crumbs, then add the rest of the filling mixture.

– Roll out the smaller pastry large enough to cover the tin with an overhang. Roll up the two overhangs to seal the pie and press with prongs of a fork.

– glaze with the eggy milk mix and stab here and there with a fork to make air vents. Sprinkle the top with fleur de sel.

– bake for 10 minutes at 400˚F, then turn the oven down to 180˚F and bake for a further 45 minutes.

– Allow the pie to cool for 15 minutes before serving, although it’s excellent cold as well.

Pizza rustica 3

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Crunchies are something a lot of South Africans grew up with, like Hershey’s Kisses in North America, or hot, roasted chestnuts in Europe. Yet, I never ever thought that they were in fact a purely South African treat.

“What are those?” I was often asked when giving out Cookie Gifts last year at this time.
“Crunchies. You know, like your Mum used to make.”

Blank stares all around. Which is when I discovered, with a little help from my friend Google, that the reason most people here in Toronto had never heard of a Crunchie is because they’d, well, never heard of Crunchies. Hmm. This didn’t seem right to me when I had such marvelous memories of my own Mum baking batches of them for us kids every winter and every birthday. Yummy, the smell of bubbling golden syrup, the crunchy, chewy squares we were somehow allowed to eat so many of. We never thought of them as even vaguely healthy as kids, when somehow healthy meant things like broccoli and lentils, blech, and yet, as an adult, I can see why these were the cookies our parents were so keen to get us eating. Not that they’re made of lentils, mind you, but when you compare them to so many of the other choices out there, they’re positively angelic, and getting children to eat their oats porrige … well, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. So here it is, North America. Go forth and Crunch for all you’re worth. You’ll not regret it.



1½ sticks butter
2 Tbsp golden syrup (eg: Lyles)
¾ cup sugar
1 tsp bicarb
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups whole rolled oats (not the quick cook kind)
1 cup coconut
1 Tbsp orange rind, finely grated

– preheat the oven to 350˚F

– melt the butter with the sugar and syrup. Bring to the boil and as soon as it starts to bubble, add the bicarb and mix, removing from heat

– mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and add the butter mix, using your hands if need be to mix evenly.

– press the mixture into a greased roasting tin or swiss roll tin, getting the mixture to about ½ an inch thick.

– bake for 15 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool for a couple minutes before cutting into squares. Allow to cool for a further 10 mins before removing from pan.


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basler brunsli

These little hearts of joy were a new thing for my cookie collection this year. This is traditional Swiss cookie-making at it’s best, if you ask me. Chocolate, cinnamon, cloves and almonds, what’s not to like? And with no butter or other fat in it, it’s a conscience-soothing nibble at this cookie-glut time of the year. Goodness, it doesn’t even use the yolk of the egg, so you have a great excuse to make real custard for your Christmas pudding this year as well. I’m just so in love with these cookies, I made two batches instead of one and intend to extend their seasonal allocation right past Christmas Nibbles on to Spring Snack and Summer Ice-cream Garnish.

A friend gave me lovely gift of fair-trade cocoa and vanilla sugar, which I used to make the second batch. Just too yummy.

basler brunsli 2

The dough can seem a little tricky the first time you make these, not being quite so doughy as crumbly, but just keep the batches you work with small, the rest in the freezer, and keep working the crumble, nutty, chocolatey mass together one cookie at a time if need be.

*note: I used turbinado (Raw) sugar for the top sprinkling because I like the slightly golden colour and the texture, but you can get large sugar crystals in all sorts and colours so don’t feel limited.

**note: for the first batch I used Callebaut Couverture, chopped up and on the second batch I got a little lazy and used Callebaut Choc Chips. I found the chips a little harder than the couverture and ended up having to warm them, along with the cocoa and spices, over a bowl of warm water until just before the chocolate started to melt in order to grind the chocolate up.

***note: if you don’t want to use the alcohol, substitute water or apple juice. Although, the actual alcohol will evaporate during cooking, so it’s perfectly fine for children. Also try using Kahlua for some fun.

basler brunsli 3

Basler Brunsli

250g good dark chocolate, 70%, chopped
⅓ cup cocoa powder
2 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp cloves
2 egg whites
¼ cup icing sugar
3 cups ground almonds
3 Tbsp Brandy or other
Course sugar for sprinkling (about ¼ cup)

– blend the chocolate, cocoa and spices in a food processor until finely ground

– add almonds and mix well

– in a large bowl, whip the eggwhites until frothy. Add the icing sugar in two batches, whipping well between additions, until firm peaks form

– fold in the chocolate-almond mix and the brandy

– form into two logs, wrap in plastic and freeze for at least 30 mins

– preheat the oven to 325˚F

– working with one batch of dough at a time, sprinkle your pastry board with sugar and roll dough out carefully over sugar until 1cm thick. Cut shapes (traditionally 2″ hearts are used) and place on a cookie tray. Sprinkle each cookie with sugar crystals, pressing slightly on each cookie to embed the sugar a little.

– bake in the oven for 18 – 20 mins

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Christmas Cookie selection

Phew! Finally I can sit down to a nice cup of tea, wipe the flour from my forehead and, more importantly, wash my apron. The poor thing is starting to look more like a piece of modern sculpture than an apron, so covered is it in flour and cookie dough and various bits of other pastry. But what a bake it was! Even though I didn’t get around to making the shortbread I wanted to, or those cheddar and rosemary crackers, my freezer is chock-a-block full of a large enough variety of Christmas Cheer. Enough to make me wonder quite seriously about that gym membership pamphlet the postman so kindly popped through my letter slot this morning. I’ll need a team of hungry elves to get through this lot!

I truly do revel in this time of year, here in the cold, white north. Each season brings its own joys and flavours, but somehow, despite my love of all things fresh in the Summer, and warm in the Autumn, it’s the Winter that puts a smile in my heart. Just put a pot of hot, mulled apple cider on the stove and I’m in heaven. I’ve always been a Winter person, loving, from an early age, the bite of cold on my cheeks and nose, and the burrowing one must do into warm woolens and snuggly sweaters. Thank goodness the somewhat more Winter-weary Mr P puts on a brave and tenacious spirit when ever I want to walk to Destination B instead of taking a warm and comfy street car because I do love a stomp in the snow. It’s the time of the year when any one can act like a child again and not risk immediate institutionalisation.

Christmas Cookie selection 2

I made this year pretty much what I made last year, in terms of cookies, which include traditional seasonal favourites like the somewhat crunchy, somewhat chewy Molasses Spice cookies; Gingerbread men with silver buttons and Royal smiles; peanut butter cookies, perfect with a glass of milk, plus a couple less traditional types like chocolate-orange harlequins, South African Crunchies and Basler Brunsli (which is currently my favourite Christmas treat).

One or two recipes to follow…


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Spiced Maple cup cakes w cream cheese

Isn’t there something magical about a cupcake? Stupid easy to make, requiring, in general, no special ingredients that you don’t normally have in the pantry and taking just about no time at all to whip up, yet they illicit a disproportional amount of joy and happiness in the recipient. Everybody, surely, loves a cup cake. What’s not to love, I ask you with icing sugar in my eyes? It’s the one time you get to eat the whole cake from start to end and it’s socially okay to do so. No sharing, no fighting over who’s slice is bigger, no dainty little forks, no politely leaving the last slice on the platter. Just you and the cake, head to head. Winner takes all. And then, of-course, there is the cute factor. Mini-cakes!? Yes, please. Sign me up.

So when you’re invited, back to back, to mid-week social events, in between a schedule involving working for a living and a long list of errands, can you honestly tell me you can think of a better take-along than a little plate of cup-cakes? I think not. These babies took 45 mins from tying on the apron to cinnamon-sugar dusted end and I can honestly say, they went down a treat. They were perfect, in their Mapley, cinnamony, cream-cheesy goodness, for the chilly weather. In fact, they were eaten on the day of the first snowfall of the season. Oh my, what brilliant timing.

*note: I used a generic cupcake recipe I’ve always had around and substituted maple syrup for the sugar, then left out any milk at the end. You might find you need to add a bit more flour at the end to form a suitable Cake consistency.

Spiced Maple cup cakes w cream cheese 2

Maple Spiced Cup Cakes with Cream Cheese Centers

For the cakes:
1 stick (125g) butter, softened
½ cup maple syrup
2 eggs
½ tsp maple essence
1 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch ground cloves
pinch ground nutmeg
cream cheese (about ⅓ cup, maybe a little more)

For the Icing:
½ stick (60ml) butter, very soft
about 1 cup sieved icing sugar
1 tsp maple essence
pinch cinnamon
2 tbsp cream cheese

– preheat the oven to 400˚F and line 12 muffin/cup cake tins

– in a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.

– in a different bowl cream the butter until very soft, then add the syrup and beat until combined. Add the eggs and essence and 2 Tbsp of the flour.

– then add the rest of the flour mix in two goes and mix well

– divide cake mix between 12 muffin tins. Place a blob of cream cheese in the middle of each (about ½ Tbsp each)

– bake for around 15 mins until cooked and golden. Cool well before icing.

– to make the icing, first beat the icing sugar into the butter, then add essence, cinnamon and cream cheese. Mix well and taste: you might want a little more cinnamon.

– ice the cakes and sprinkle with some cinnamon sugar to decorate

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Christmas Pudding Makings

Oh guess, just go on and Guess what I’m making in my Kitchen…

You’ll have to wait to hear how it all goes, but I’m already so very, very excited. I really do try to put off the Christmas Cheer for as long as I can. The stores whip those sparkles and lights out straight after Halloween here in Canada, not having America’s November Thanksgiving to keep their decorators fingers at bay from the tinsel and flashing lights. And to me, here in North America, Christmas is a Winter Thing. Meaning, that as soon as you’ve immersed yourself in the Ho Ho Ho’s, you’ve admitted that it’s Winter already and between you and me, I’m still enjoying the Autumn an awful lot. I still have a bright orange pumpkin on my doorstep and I still kick up (wet, soggy) leaves along the road. I’m making things like butternut soup and turnip bake, so back off, Winter. That being said, I went past a shop known for its particularly enthusiastic approach to Christmas window dressing, and the sight of what they’ve done this year sent a little bubble of Christmas joy up to the top of my brain, where it burst a little Christmas cheer into my life and I spent the rest of the ride home humming quietly to myself at the thought of all the baking and cooking and eating and drinking to be done over the next few weeks.

What a perfect mood in which to rustle up some good old fashioned Christmas Pud. Yum. Well, truth be told, I ran out of time to do the actual steaming this evening, and so I had to content myself with mixing up all the dry ingredients and being patient with the rest. I guess I’ll have to wait until after Christmas to tell you how it all went, because until then the puds will get a good rest in, in the pantry cupboard.

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