Posts Tagged ‘traditions’

Eggnog from another era

26 December 2014

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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.

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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

Nutmeg

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

Nutmeg

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.

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Merry Christmas Stollen

24 December 2014

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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!

Galette des rois (king’s cake)

8 January 2014

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‘For whom is this piece?’

The cake has been cut, one piece already slid under the cake knife. The youngest child is giggling under the table, the family above huddled auspiciously around the redolent cake. The crown is ready. The ritual has begun.

Monday 6 January was Epiphany, Twelfth Night, or King’s Day, which in the Christian tradition celebrates the arrival of the three wise men (‘kings’) Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar, bearing gifts for Jesus. In a typical amalgamation of customs, it is also — or foremost? — the day of the king’s cake, a traditional confection in which is hidden a coin, bean, or small figurine. Meaning is attached to finding the token. Depending on the tradition, it may bring luck, assign you to be the organizer of the next party, or make you king for the day, a custom that apparently derives from the Roman Saturnalia, a winter festival rife with role playing during which the king of festivities was chosen by lot, with a bean.

In France we play like this: Everyone gathers around the galette as the youngest person hides under the table. The host cuts the cake and distributes the pieces according to the injunction of the hidden guest, who, in no specific order, calls out the name of each person present. This ensures that the piece with the token is given out at random. The cake is eaten circumspectly, with furtive poking and prodding, until someone finds the fève, and everyone can go about their business of just enjoying the pastry. The king is crowned and chooses his queen (or vice versa).

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For many years I didn’t make galette, I loved trying out bakeries to compare and contrast and find the best one. (Have I mentioned that we French eat galettes throughout January?) Then one day, I baked one. Or at least partially. I bought good puff pastry and made the almond cream. It was so ridiculously easy I was practically embarrassed. It also made for a better galette than most store-bought kinds. So I started making galettes. Kind of. Then, unexpectedly, this year, after decades of shying away from puff pastry (is it really worth the effort?), on a whim, I dove into the deep end — and I am not looking back.

Dan Lepard’s all-butter English puff pastry is, in his words, really not that hard to make. I agree!

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Recipe

Making galette can be anywhere from super easy to quite time-consuming, depending on how much is self-made. The ultra-quick version uses good store-bought puff pastry and ready ground almonds. The most hands on take makes puff pastry from scratch and grinds almonds on the spot. Depending on the mood.

Puff pastry, 2 sheets per galette (best, pure-butter, store-bought kind, or self-made)

Filling for 2 galettes about 30 cm (12″) in diameter

180 g (3/4 cup) unsalted butter

180 g (1 cup) sugar

200 g (2 cups) almonds (or ready-ground almond flour)

1/2 tsp salt

3 eggs

Zest from 1 small lemon

1/2 tsp almond extract

1 Tbsp Armagnac (or, more traditionally, rum)

1 egg yolk and 2 Tbsps milk for the eggwash

1 fève (dried fava bean or small porcelain figurine)

Take the butter out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature.

To prepare the almond flour, first blanch the almonds: Bring a couple of cups of water to boil, pour over the almonds to just cover, let steep for 1 minute, then strain the water and immediately remove the skins from the almonds. Once all the skins are removed, place the almonds in a food processor and pulse chop until very fine. Alternatively, use store-bought ground almonds (= almond flour).

In a large bowl, beat the butter until creamy.

In another bowl, mix the sugar, almonds, and salt. Add this to the butter and mix well before beating in the eggs, one at a time, combining each thoroughly into the batter. Stir in the lemon zest, almond extract, and Armagnac. Refrigerate. [The almond cream can be refrigerated for a few hours until ready to use.]

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry into two circles of the same size (about 30 cm or 12″). Use a tarte dish or other to trim the circles into neat edges.

Place one circle of dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spread a good layer of almond cream on the dough, leaving an edge of about 1 cm (1/2 inch) along the circumference. Place the fève randomly onto the cream.

Make an egg wash by beating 1 egg yolk and 2 tablespoons milk lightly with a fork. Brush the egg wash along the circumference of the dough. Carefully place the second round of dough on top and press along the edge thoroughly to seal.

Place the assembled galette in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes (or overnight).

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375°F (180°C) and remove the galette from the refrigerator. With a sharp knife, etch a design onto the galette, then brush generously with the egg wash.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until the galette is golden brown.

Serve warm (lightly reheated if necessary).


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