NOTE: To Singing Owl--no, this is not my family. It's a nice photo, evocative of a certain time of year and of the previous century. Just to be clear about this.
1. Favourite cookie/candy/baked good without which, it's just not Christmas.
Now that is a tough one…my mother and I were just talking about Christmas baking the other day, and all the different recipes we used to make—cherry blinks, spritzen, lebkuchen, gingersnaps, candy canes, stockings (the latter two variations on sugar cookies), macaroons, and rum balls. I think I’d have to go with sugar cookies, Mexican wedding cakes or cream wafers. Recipes for the second two below.
2. Do you do a fancy dinner on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, both, or neither? (Optional: with whom will you gather around the table this year?)
I’m still in the process of re-creating a holiday tradition—between pastoring and a divorce, I haven’t done the same thing two years in a row for about five or six years. My vote, however, goes to what my family always did. Big dinner Christmas Eve (generally “roast beast,” as we called it, following the immortal Dr. Seuss), then opening one present, followed by the candlelight service at church. In the morning, presents with Mom’s cinnamon coffee cake, coffee and Mimosas (plus candy from our stockings), then church, with an open house all afternoon after church, with sausage, chips, crackers, cheese, dip, cookies, punch, etc. Then in the evening left-over roast beef sandwiches and a sugar coma.
This year DP is headed back to visit her children for Christmas, so I’ll be spending Christmas Eve with the church—pretty literally, with a service at 1:30 pm and then another at 11 pm, followed by a Chinese dinner (a tradition here). Christmas Day after worship, I’ve been invited to a brunch and then to a dinner. It’s sort of a progressive meal, hosted by two couples who are part of a circle DP and I are becoming closer to this year. They are all amazing cooks, so I’m really looking forward to those meals!
3. Evaluate one or more of the holiday beverage trifecta: hot chocolate, wassail, eggnog.
My personal favourite is eggnog, even if I can’t have the roaring traditional recipe I used to make—it called for a fifth of bourbon, rum and less than a dozen eggs. Cook those raw eggs with alcohol, baby! Now I generally get the pasteurized stuff at the store—it doesn’t taste at all the same (even if you add rum and bourbon), but it’s healthier. Sigh.
However, I do like hot spiced wine—in
Hot chocolate is good and a comfort food, but I have it too often during the winter for it to be very Christmassy for me.
4. Candy canes: do you like all the new-fangled flavours or are you a peppermint purist?
A pox on fancy flavours! Peppermint is the real flavour!
5. Have you ever actually had figgy pudding? And is it really so good that people will refuse to leave until they are served it?
If it’s anything like my mom’s plum pudding, you betcha I’ll refuse to go until I get some! Lots, even!
Bonus item: the fruitcake. Feel free to add your thoughts on this most polarizing holiday confection.
Well…I confess I used to bake it. I helped my mom make it when I was young—chop the nuts, slice the citron and cherries, etc. She always made big batches of it for all her brothers and sisters. After they were baked (in early November), they were wrapped in rum-soaked cheesecloth (are we sensing a theme here?) and left to marinate for four weeks before being sent off around the country.
Because it seemed like a required part of Christmas, I baked it myself for the first four or five years after I left home. But then I realized I didn’t eat it, and neither did much of anyone else we had over at Christmas. So I stopped. Life is much better now.
By the way, re-reading this, it sounds like my childhood home was steeped in rum, drowned in champagne, and boiled in bourbon. That’s really and truly not the case! It’s just the holidays, that’s all.
Mexican Wedding Cakes
(I have no idea why they are called that. With the pecans, they should be called
½ lb butter
2 cups flour
¼ cup sugar
1 cup pecans (chopped fine, but not to dust)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Cream butter; add sugar and vanilla, beat until light and fluffy. Add flour and pecans, mix well. Roll in 1-inch balls and place 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350° for 18-20 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from cookie sheet and roll in confectioners sugar while still warm. Cool on wire rack.
These (and the next one) are great because they’re not terribly sweet, but very addictive. You can eat half a batch before you even realize you’re eating them.
1/3 cup cream
2 cups flour
1 cup butter
Mix into dough and chill at least thirty minutes. Roll 1/3 at a time, on lightly-floured board, keeping remaining dough chilled. Roll 1/8-inch thick and cut in 1 ½-inch circles (I use the top of a spice bottle). Coat both sides with granulated (not confectioners) sugar. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Prick once or twice with a fork. Bake at 325° for 8-10 minutes. Do not allow to brown. Put together, sandwich cookie-style, with filling.
¼ cup soft butter
¾ cup confectioners sugar
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Food coloring if desired
10 egg yolks
1 ¼ cup granulated sugar
½ cup light rum
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 fifth bourbon
10 egg whites, beaten stiff
Beat yolks well; slowly fold sugar in. Very slowly add rum. Stir in milk and cream. Add bourbon slowly, and fold in egg whites. Chill well. Top with nutmeg. Hide the car keys.
And a special bonus recipe:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 cups shredded
Mix together by hand (do not use blender or mixer); use just enough wine to allow the cheeses to blend. Chill. Shape into one large ball. Roll ball in paprika, coating it. Then roll in sesame seeds. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 8 hours. Serve with crackers. This also freezes well.