My mom has prepared a yule log cake every Christmas I can remember. I have no idea how this tradition came to my family, as it is extremely French (“bûche de noël”), and we are not.
The cake is a simple sponge. Whole eggs are beaten thoroughly, sugar is added, then a bit of water, and finally flour and cocoa are folded in. The batter is runny, and forms a shallow, uniform, fine-textured cake after baking.
The interior icing is a buttercream made by whipping room-temperature butter into Swiss meringue. Swiss meringue is a mixture of whipped egg whites and simple syrup cooked to soft ball stage.
The exterior frosting is icing sugar beaten into lard, which makes the colour … Continue reading.
I don’t cook rice very often, but I used to work at a restaurant that let me take home large amounts of leftover rice, and over the years I have developed a taste for rice pudding. My favourite version is made with a blend of brown and wild rice (which adds a satisfying chew to the dish), and dried saskatoons.
Lately I’ve been wondering if I could make a similar dish with a starch that is more common in my kitchen. Take that fifty pound bag of wheat berries in my closet, for instance. The one that I keep threatening to grind into flour if it doesn’t make itself more useful.
I was wary of trying to adapt wheat to … Continue reading.
This is a dish that confused me for some time. “Minced” means broken up (it’s actually related to the word “minute,” as in exceedingly small). The British use the word “minced” in places we might use the word “ground,” so when I started hearing about mincemeat pies, I assumed they were meat pies.
Then certain people (Lisa, Alton Brown) tried to explain to me that there was no meat in mincemeat pies at all, just dried fruit.
Just as I started grappling with the idea of a meatless mincemeat, I found one of my grandma’s recipes which seemed to combine the aforementioned concepts. The ingredients:
- beef chuck
- dried currants
- sultana raisins
- citron (I believe this refers to
… Continue reading.
The waiting is the hardest part.
-Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
I used to revile fruitcake, but in recent years a description by Jeffrey Steingarten has made me more receptive to the dish.
…full of dark, saturated medieval tastes and colors… aged for a year and then set aflame at the very last minute, carefully spooned out like the treasure it is…
I became mildly interested in the idea of aging baked goods, but I still regarded fruitcake as a gaudy curiosity. Then I came across fruitcake in the memoirs of a woman who grew up during the depression in Northern Ontario, called On Turnips, Teas, and Threshing Bees. Her description of fruitcake, and the lengths her family … Continue reading.
Lisa had a great method for making a stained glass effect on gingerbread houses, so we decided to make a church.
Our gingerbread is this standard recipe. This was my first time making gingerbread, and also my first time realizing that most of the tastes I associate with gingerbread are actually from the molasses.
For the stained glass, we bought hard candies and crushed them to make coloured sugars. After the gingerbread was baked off, we set the cookies on parchment, then filled the window-holes with the coloured sugar. After baking for a few minutes, the sugar melts, and once it cools it resembles glass.
Just as the windows come out of the oven, the melted sugar can be … Continue reading.
And she feeds you tea and oranges
That come all the way from China
-Leonard Cohen, Suzanne
I remember my dad telling me that when he was little he mostly got Christmas oranges (mandarins) and nuts in his stocking. When I was younger I thought that was unspeakably lame. I now realize that oranges would have been a novelty at any time of year, but to have such a sweet fruit in the dead of winter was truly a luxury.
I’ve been trying to cultivate a deeper respect for food we bring from afar. Given the season, I’ve been rekindling the ancient occidental obsession with oriental spices. To that end, I’d like to share a story from Herodotus:
What … Continue reading.
December 1 is the first day of what I call “secular advent,” which counts the twenty five days until Christmas.
The Catholic Church, however, doesn’t subsribe to such logical measurements of time. (Easter, for instance, is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox…) As such Catholic advent starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, which was a few days ago.
Growing up, we counted the days till Christmas both ways. For secular advent there was a fabric “calendar” with twenty five pockets and a chocolate in each, and for advent proper there was candle-lighting. There was a wreath on the kitchen table that had four candles: three purple and one pink. Starting on the fourth … Continue reading.
Rumtopf, literally “rum pot”, is a traditional German fruit preserve. As each type of fruit comes into season, it is macerated with sugar, placed in the pot, then covered with rum. Traditional rumtopfen are earthenware pots with heavy lids, but any wide-mouthed, non-reactive vessel can be used.
I use about one part sugar to two parts fruit, by weight, for each addition.
Once the last layer of fruit is added, the mixture steeps for a few months, and is traditionally eaten around Christmas.
The mixture goes through some profound transformations during aging. It loses the striking vibrancy seen above and turns a uniform burgundy. The liquor loses its clarity and becomes murky, with an exceptionally rich mouthfeel, verging on … Continue reading.