Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Roast duck with mandarins and ginger

29 December 2021

After more than twenty years of celebrating Christmas at home — in Berlin, in New York, in London, once upon a time just the two of us, and now, more often than not, with our gathered families — we may finally have found a Christmas meal tradition!

I cannot remember ever making the same meal twice for Christmas day. We’ve had goose stuffed with apples and sage, ham, venison gulash, beef Wellington, even lamb shoulders. Nothing sticks.

And though we’ve experimented with all sorts, I especially like the idea of a bird. I love goose, but I am wary of the endless jugs of fat that ultimately need collecting and filtering and jarring and storing… Turkey is instantly disqualified as there was turkey for Thanksgiving, and that seems plenty ’til next year. And so duck. It seems an obvious choice, and if we’ve not had it before (or, at least, not repeatedly) it must be because it wasn’t the perfect recipe.

Finding that perfect meal for Christmas day, which comes at the tail end of a stream of feasting since October, has been tricky, when the temptation is strong to do little else but eat Stollen all day and leaf, play, and puzzle through the Christmas gifts. The day warrants something special — simple enough, but also outrageously delicious enough, to make us want to cook again. This is it!

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Roast duck with mandarins and ginger recipe, slightly adapted from David Tanis in the NY Times
Notes: This recipe has an overnight rest, but it is also possible to do everything in one go, as we did this year.
For two ducks we doubled all the ingredients except the glaze, of which we made just the amount suggested here. It was plenty.

For the duck:

One duck (approximately 2.5kg) without neck and giblets (reserve for another use)
3 Tbsps Maldon or coarse grey sea salt
1 Tbsp homemade 5-spice powder (see recipe below)
Zest from a couple of oranges or mandarins (see ingredients for the glaze)
2 whole mandarins
1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 Tbsp grated garlic

For the glaze

1 1/2 cups juiced oranges or mandarins (and their zest, see above)
1 Tbsps honey
3 Tbsps soy sauce
5-cm (2-inch) piece of ginger, thickly sliced
3 star anise

Pat the duck dry and remove any excess fat from the cavirty and trim a bit of the flappy neck skin. Prick the skin of the duck all over with a sharp knife tip, taking care not to poke into the flesh. (It’s not as hard as it sounds!)

Mix together the salt and 5-spice mix and use it to season the interior as well as the exterior of the duck by taking small handfulls and rubbing it all over, inside and out.

Combine the zest from the juiced oranges (or mandarins), with the grated ginger and garlic and rub this inside the duck cavity. Cut the 2 whole mandarins into quarters, and place the quarters into the duck cavity. Tie the legs together and skewer the neck flap into place (with a skewer or toothpick). Place the duck on a rack in a roasting tin breast side up and refrigerate overnight. Alternatively, continue immediately.

Preheat the oven to 220C (425F). Meanwhile make the glaze and take the duck out of the refrigerator (if applicable) to come to room temperature.

To make the glaze: Bring the orange (or mandarin) juice, honey, and soy sauce to a simmer. Add the sliced ginger and star anise and simmer gently until the mixture thickens slightly, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Roast the duck at 220C (425F) for 20 minutes.

Lower the temperature to 150C (300F), turn the duck over (breast side down), and roast for a further one and a half hours, turning and basting the duck every half hour. After one and a half hours, turn the duck breast side up again, paint it with the glaze and roast for another 45 minutes to an hour.

Remove the duck from the oven and let it rest, covered with aluminum foil, for about 20 minutes before carving and serving. Meanwhile pour and strain the juices from the roasting tray and reheat until piping hot to serve over the duck.

The duck goes particularly well with mashed celeriac with parsley, and a spoonful of cranberry sauce leftover from Thanksgiving.

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5-spice mix
(Yields about 3 tablespoons)

1 tsp black peppercorns
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp cloves
6 star anise
5-cm (2-inch) cinnamon stick
12 allspice berries
Grind all the spices in a spice grinder to a fine powder.
Store in a small glass jar.

Eggnog from another era

26 December 2014


Berlin, 1945. Somewhere on the streets of Dahlem, a dashing US officer accosts a long-legged 19-year-old, demurely asking for directions to a place he has traveled a dozens times before. They are swept off their feet. One out of an ill-fated, fading marriage, the other from the rubble of war and desolation. They moved to Maryland. So goes our family mythology.

My grandmother always told us the same handful of war stories. Stories for small children, about young children in the war. She told of the day the war broke out while she was at summer camp, how she spent all her pocket money to buy her favorite hazelnut-studded chocolate (it is something little German girls knew in 1939 — that in times of war, chocolate becomes scarce), only to discover, too late, that the nuts were full of worms. She told how her parents had once asked her to watch over the cooking of a duck, a unique feast bartered by my great-grand father against school lessons. How else to know when it was done, other than to try it, just a little piece? Starving, she ate the entire thing. She told of her encounter with the Russian soldier reeking of alcohol who tried to steal her bicycle — unexpectedly pelted by a spew of Russian swear words from the long-legged German girl, he lost countenance just long enough for my grandmother to speed away, back the way she had come. She told us how she met our grandfather on a street corner in Dahlem.

When she married my grandfather, my grandmother became fiercely American; though they soon moved back to Europe she fully embraced an American expat life. But she also remained proudly German, and nurtured German traditions, especially around Christmas. We laid out milk and cookies for St Nikolaus on December 6th, we baked, we opened presents on Christmas eve, we lit our tree with candles.

So today, amid the wreaths and advent calendars, among the candles and the singing, the oysters and the cookies, there are two traditions that I hold dearest. They connect me to my grandmother, and in one grand sweep I like to think they link me not only to our family story but to Europe’s history too. The two recipes that my grandmother sent me, once upon a time, handwritten, slipped inside the letters she wrote regularly: Stollen and eggnog.

Sweet Stollen, a long, patient, and tedious process, which ultimately brings the reward of nibbled bites that taste of the promise of sheltered German childhoods. Boozy eggnogg, the stuff of joyful parties, the mirth-filled evenings of a war-less era.

My grandmother was an elegant, modern, impeccable hostess. Though she was a very good cook, she much preferred to delegate kitchen duties and sit on the sidelines with a glass of champagne and a cigarette. She loved company, and she loved parties. Every 26th of December, my grandparents hosted an eggnog party, to celebrate their anniversary. This is their recipe. In loving memory.


Leonine eggnog recipe, verbatim, probably from the 1950s
(See further below for a slightly adapted recipe using a third of the bourbon, which is plenty.)

12 eggs, from Mrs. Cluck

12 level Tbsps granulated sugar

3 pints bouquet bourbon or rye

1 quart milk

1 pint heavy cream


Crack eggs, separating yolks from whites. Setting latter aside for the nonce, go at yolks with an eggbeater, plying in furiously. Gradually add the sugar, beating it until entirely dissolved. Now enters the whiskey, poured slowly and stirred, its action on yolks being equivalent to a gentle cooking. Then milk, followed by cream (whipped cream if you prefer extra richness), likewise stirred in. Clean off eggbeater and tackle the whites till they stand without flinching. Fold them into the general mixture. Stir in one grated nutmeg. Will serve 12 people (or more). If it’s the whipped cream version, they’ll need spoons.

Merry Xmas!


Eggnog recipe adapted for 2014 — Serves 12
(I use a third of the bourbon stipulated in the original and it is perfect, but feel free to add much more!)

12 eggs

12 Tbsps sugar

1 pint (500 ml) good bourbon or rye whiskey

1 quart (1 l) whole milk

2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream


Separate the egg yolks from the whites, which are set aside for later. In a medium bowl, beat the yolks thoroughly, gradually adding the sugar while continuing to beat firmly. Then slowly pour in the whiskey, still stirring more gently but constantly. Now add the milk, then the cream.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until very firm (until the peaks hold without moving). Gently fold the whipped whites into the rest of the egg/whiskey/cream mixture.

Garnish generously with freshly grated nutmeg.


Merry Christmas Stollen

24 December 2014


It’s Christmas Eve and finally time to cut the Stollen!

Read my story on Food&_ about this favorite German Christmas tradition and the proper way of savoring it (then bookmark the recipe for next year!).

A very merry Christmas and happy holidays everyone!

Christmas cookies | Zimtsterne (cinnamon stars)

23 December 2013


Maybe I wasn’t being completely truthful last year when I exclaimed that the almond and currant cookies of my youth are my favorite. In reality I’ve always loved Zimtsterne most of all.

As a little girl, cinnamon stars represented the very promise of Christmas. The sweet tinge of icing an irresistible finish to the chewy bite. Nutty. Not too cinnamony. For some years I may have snubbed them a little, perhaps in a flaccid effort at emancipation from too obvious a childhood treat. But why resist the irresistible?

This is another recipe my mother has kept alive all these years. She received it initially, many years ago, from Marcelle, a close family friend and my grandparent’s neighbor in Switzerland.


Marcelle’s Zimtsterne
The cookies must rest for a few hours or overnight before baking, so plan accordingly. They are best made a few weeks ahead. (Ahem.
Store in an airtight tin box, separating the layers with parchment paper.

450 g (3 cups) almonds

3 egg whites

Pinch of salt

300 g (1 1/2 cups) unrefined sugar

2 1/2 tsps ground cinnamon

Kirsch (1 Tbsp for cookies and 1 Tbsp for the icing)

Star-shaped cookie cutter

100 g (3/4 cup) powdered (icing) sugar

Pulse chop the almonds in a food processor until they reach the consistency of coarse sugar. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

In another bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until very firm.

Add the sugar, cinnamon, and 1 tablespoon kirsch to the almonds. Fold in the egg whites with a wooden spoon, then knead by hand until the dough holds together (kneading will help extract the almond oil).

Take the dough and flatten it evenly on a slightly moistened wooden board (working in batches if necessary). The height should be approximately 8 mm (1/3 inch), but the most important is that it be even so it also cooks evenly.

Prepare a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and sprinkled with sugar. Cut out stars from the dough with a wet cookie cutter and place them on the baking sheet. (Wet the cutter repeatedly throughout the process to avoid sticking.)

Let the stars rest, uncovered (they must dry a little), at room temperature, for a few hours or overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

Slide the sheet in the middle of the oven and bake the cookies for 10 minutes. They will harden when they cool but must remain moist.

Make the icing by mixing the icing sugar with 1 tablespoon Kirsch and 1 tablespoon water. The icing should be quite liquid, add water drop by drop if necessary.

Using the back of a small spoon, coat each star, while still warm, with a light layer of icing. Let dry.

Store in a tin box, layers separated by parchment paper, for up to two weeks.

Merry Christmas!

Quince fruit pastes (pâtes de fruit)

27 November 2013


The truth of the matter is, rather than preparing for a blasphemously belated Thanksgiving on Saturday, for which most of my family is crossing the channel, I have been roasting quinces and simmering chutney.

Last week, friends unexpectedly brought me a big bag of quinces from their garden in the Cotswolds (I hear it is more of an orchard). I was quite excited and may possibly have briefly jumped up and down at the sight. It was a very busy week, and I was away this weekend — the quinces were becoming impatient. Quinces do hold out for a while but I wasn’t willing to tempt fate for too long, so last night I made chutney. As a first test improvised from a few recipes it is quite good, but I am not entirely happy enough to report the results here — yet. In any event, Thomas managed to save the last of the quinces from their chutney fate, begging that I make quince paste, too.

What he doesn’t know is that in the course of the morning, half of the membrillo has been transmogrified into my absolute favorite sweet: pâtes de fruit.

The preparation is the same up to the point of cutting the paste into dice or rectangles and coating them with sugar.


Quince cheese recipe adapted from the River Café Cookbook (Blue)




Preheat oven to 300ºF (150ºC).

Rub the fuzz from the quinces and wash well under cold water. Cut the quinces in half and place them face down in an ovenproof dish. Cover with aluminum foil and bake until the quinces feel quite soft when poked with a knife (probably 1 1/2 to 2 hours).

While the quinces are still warm, pass them through the fine mesh of a vegetable mill. (To insure a very pure paste, first remove the quinces’ core).

(The quince purée can at this point be refrigerated overnight.)

Weigh the purée, place in a saucepan, and add an equal amount of sugar and one tablespoons of lemon juice per 100g of quince.

Cook over very low heat, stirring constantly, until the paste has darkened and begins to fall off the sides. This will take a good long while, 1 1/2 to 2 hours, so take a book, newspaper, or magazine close to the stove but DO NOT leave. (I happen to know that left unattended, the paste will burn very quickly. In which case transfer quickly to another saucepan and continue cooking.)

Once the paste has reached a dark, heavy consistency, spread on a plate to cool. Once cool, cut into the desired shapes and roll in some sugar. The pastes should keep for a few weeks in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

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