Not many other times of year compare to Christmas when thinking of food, from the cooking to the eating to the gifting to the preparing, so as part of Feastforfamines’ philosophy to celebrate food from all corners of the world, I’d like to share with you some of the lovely foodie traditions that have been passed on to me – ENJOY!
So let’s start with Portugal, and more specifically the traditions of the Portuguese island Madeira, where the cooking of pork is essential for many typical Christmas dishes, as well as being preserved or smoked for other uses throughout the year.
A very popular pork dish at this time is ‘Carne Vinha D’Alhos’, which translate to pork marinated in wine and garlic, and if you would like to have a go at making this I would probably recommend using a pork shoulder joint.
Carne Vinha D’Alhos
1 kg pork with some fat, Garlic cloves (as many as you dare!), 1 bay leaf, Bouquet garnet, 2 litres of white wine, 1 litre of vinegar, food sprinkle of coarse sea salt, good sprinkle of ground pepper.
1. Dice the meat and marinate for two to three days with wine, vinegar, garlic cloves, bay leaves, bouquet garni, salt and pepper.
2. Fry the meat in the marinade until tender and add some lard (optional, but traditional).
3.Hold onto the meat cooking liquid to add as sauce to slices of homemade bread, best served with potatos or in sandwiches.
In the build up to Christmas, many people like to prepare or buy the traditional honey cake and give as gifts to friends and family. Honey Cake is the oldest and most widely know of all the Madeiran sweets, and as a special treat I have the recipe right here:
1 kg sugar cane honey, 1.5 kg flour, 400g butter, 250g lard, 750g sugar, 150g chopped almonds, 100g chopped apple, 25g baking soda, 10g Ground Cloves, 10g Ground Cinnamon, 10g Ground Sweet Fennel, 1 Ground Nutmeg, 250g Bread (leaven), 1 glass of Madeira Wine, 1 Oranges juice and zest, 1 Lemon juice and zest, cup of Raisins, cup of walnuts for decoration.
1.Add the lard, butter, sugar cane honey and sugar in a saucepan and melt all the ingredients together.
2. Let it cool.
3. Add this to a bowl with the remaining ingredients mix well for around 10 minutes to make sure everything is combined.
4. Cover with a towel and let stand for 24 to 48 hours.
5. Pour the bater into, greased and lined cake tins and pour, garnish with whole walnuts and bake at 200º C for 25 minutes.
These cakes can be kept for a whole year. To eat break the cake with your hands, it is tradition!
From Austria, I have two lovely recipes, the first was my last recipe – Maya’s Christmas Butter Biscuits, known as ‘Butterkekse’ in Austria, a recipe that Maya has made every Christmas with her mum and grandma, they make them together, decorate them and then hang them on the tree. I think I will be doing this with my daughter every year now too. The other recipe from Austria is for ‘Lebkuchen’, dark little cookies with loads of spice, please see recipe below:
280g rye flour, 180g icing sugar, 80g honey, 2 eggs, 1 tsp sodium bicarbonate, 1 tsp. Lebkuchen spice, zest of an orange.
1. Preheat oven to 200º
2. Combine all the dry ingredients together well
3. Add the egg and work to a dough
4. Roll out and cut to about 1-2cm thick
5. Place on a lined baking tray and bake in the oven for 10mins
6. Allow to cool and can be eaten as they are, or covered with chocolate glaze or basic sugar icing.
A friend of mine who grew up in Germany has shared with me a recipe that was given to her, handwritten when she was 18, ‘Zimtsterne’ or ‘Cinnamon Stars’. These are a well known and loved recipe in Germany, along with other Christmas specialities such as Stollen (fruitcake with a marzipan centre), Spekulatius biscuits (spiced biscuits) and Dominosteine (domino stones – a little chocolate covered cube of ginger bread with marzipan and jelly).
So here it is the recipe for Cinnamon Stars, but I have been warned this can get a little sticky, so best to roll it out between two sheets of greaseproof paper.
‘Zimtsterne’ or ‘Cinnamon Stars’
500g ground almonds, 5 egg whites, 450g icing sugar, sieved, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1 dessertspoon Kirschwasser (cherry schnapps)
1.Whisk the egg whites into stiff peaks and fold in the sieved icing sugar.
2.Put one cup of this mixture aside to use as a glaze for the finished biscuits.
3.Add in the ground almonds, ground cinammon and the Kirschwasser to the remaining mixture and knead together quickly into a dough.
4.Cover the dough with clingfilm and allow to cool in the fridge for an hour.
5.Sprinkle a biscuit tray with icing sugar, and roll the dough out onto the tray until it is 1 cm thick. (it is a good idea to do this between two sheets of greaseproof paper, so sprinkle the icing sugar onto the bottom sheet and more onto the top of the dough before putting the top sheet on, (Do not have your rolling pin in direct contact with the dough or disaster will ensue!!!!)
6.Cut out star shapes using the star-shaped cookie cutter.
7.Cover the stars evenly with the glaze you set aside earlier.
8.Place the biscuit tray inside a larger tray or tin, and allow the biscuits to dry out at room temperature overnight.
8.The next day, heat the oven to Gas Mark 4 or 180C and bake the biscuits for 8-9 minutes. The finished biscuits should still be pale and the glaze should remain white.
Now to Spain, where I am told that marzipan alongside Turron, (a type of nougat), is the star of Christmas sweets, and it’s not surprising with Toledo producing 80% of all the marzipan in Spain each year. The marzipan recipe is very simple and is used throughout Christmas time to make little figures and Christmas like shapes, making them an ideal gift for many…so if you would like to have a go at ‘food gifting’ Spanish style, then take a look at the recipe given to me below:
200g Ground Almonds, 200g Icing sugar, 1 egg
1. Mix all dry ingredients together well making sure there aren’t any lumps, (you may want to sift the icing sugar’
2. Separate the egg white from the egg yolk
3. Keep the yolk in a sealed container in the fridge for later
4. Beat the egg white a little and add to the dry ingredients
5. Mix well until you have formed a dough, if it feels too wet add some more almonds and icing sugar
6. If the dough starts to crack then add a little water
7. With slightly wet hands, mould into a ball, cover with cling film or bees wax and pop in the fridge for one hour
8. Pre-heat oven to 200ºc
9. Take the marzipan out of the fridge and start to make into little little figures, (those based on more rounded shapes are best, snowman etc), your dough should give your around 12 figures
10. Place on a lined baking tray, beat the egg yolk and lightly brush over the little figures
11. Once your oven has reached 200º turn the oven off and put the grill on place the baking tray underneath for around 3 minutes, until they start to turn golden brown
12. Take them out of the oven and allow to completely cool before handling them or they will break!
13. You can now add details with food colouring pens if you wish
In Poland, gingerbread is a big Christmas tradition, families get together to make the biscuits, and as with Maya’s Biscuits, are often used to decorate the tree. There are many varieties but they are often made with honey not sugar and are then covered in chocolate, some varieties are made weeks in advance and gingerbread cake is often filled with plum jam and butter. The city of Torun has been making gingerbread since the 13th Century capitalising on the exotic spices coming over from India and the Middle East, there is even a gingerbread festival and a gingerbread museum here. I have been given some links for good gingerbread recipes which you can find below:
We never got this adventurous in my house when I was growing up, although I did make a chocolate ‘Christmas Log’, with my father every year on Christmas Eve, which consisted of covering a shop bought large chocolate swiss roll in melted chocolate, allowing to cool and then smothering it in icing sugar, then adding little figurines, I loved it!! But I have already started to recreate some of the lovely recipes shared here by FeastforFamine friends with my family, some of which I hope will become our traditions too.
Thank you, to all of you who have contributed to this post and whatever your traditions at Christmas time, I wish you a very Merry Christmas.