There are so many reasons that I love this joyous season: the festivities, the food, the decorations, the food, the exchanging of greetings cards and thoughtful trinkets, the food, sharing the happiness of friends, neighbours and colleagues, and the food.
Did I already mention the food? Every year at this time, for better or for worse, some seasonal foods make a temporary appearance to mark the occasion.
Oh the joy of shortbread cookies! Never have three simple ingredients — sugar, butter and flour — combined to create so wonderful and so lethal a creation.
Every year I happily receive a tin full of these goodies from a generous friend celebrating his Scottish roots during the festive season, and as a result I welcome the New Year with a few extra pounds in tow. But the fleeting joy of these melt-in-your mouth homemade butter-rich treats makes it well worth it.
2 cups butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 350°F. Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Stir in vanilla, then add flour and mix well. Form cookies on baking sheets and bake for 10 to 12 minutes.
Imagine the intrigued looks around the office when a friend hailing from Colombo mentioned that she would spend the evening making Love Cake for her Christmas guests. Why is it called Love, we all asked. She wasn’t sure, but did offer that it’s a tradition that dates back to the days of former Ceylon and one which started in the kitchens of Portuguese colonists who lovingly concocted this gently spiced delicacy with cashew nuts and semolina.
7 eggs, separated
500g castor sugar
375g raw cashews, finely chopped
2 tablespoons rosewater
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, finely grated
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 tablespoon natural almond extract
Preheat oven to 300°F. Whisk egg whites and set aside.
Beat the yolks and sugar till light and creamy. Add semolina. Mix to combine.
Add cashew and mix to combine. Add the rest of the ingredients except egg whites. Mix well. Fold in the egg whites.
Pour into non-stick baking tray and bake for about one hour, or until the middle is done.
My neighbour grew up in Germany and the Germans love their Stollen at Christmas time. I am told that the choicest Stollen has a rope of marzipan in the centre.
But my neighbour admits that she doesn’t like to spend too much time in the kitchen baking this cake-like fruit bread, so every year she buys her Stollen but kneads together marzipan and gives out bars of it as gifts so that others can make their own Stollen. Absolute genius resides in the house next to mine; I can only hope to one day reach the same level of culinary brilliance.
1 1/2 cups very finely ground peeled almonds
1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoon rosewater
1 egg white
Place the almond flour and powdered sugar in a food processor and pulse until combined and any lumps are broken up. Add the almond extract and rose water and pulse to combine.
Add the egg white and process until it forms a thick dough. If the mass is too wet and sticky, add more powdered sugar and ground almonds. It will become firmer after it’s been refrigerated.
Turn the almond marzipan onto a work surface and knead it a few times. Form it into a log, wrap it up in plastic wrap and refrigerate.
It will keep for a month in the refrigerator or up to six months in the freezer. Bring to room temperature before using in any recipe. Makes about 12 ounces of marzipan.
Originally published in Dawn, EOS, December 24th, 2017