Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

A Good Holiday Cake

January 23, 2010

Well, it’s no longer the holidays (why, oh why, does the Christmas season zip by so quickly?  Why??), but my eye was arrested by the heading ”Good Holiday Cake” in Household Management as I flicked through it in a post-holiday funk.  If I can’t be on holiday, I thought, then maybe a cake would be just the thing to perk things up.


INGREDIENTS – 1–1/2d. worth of Borwick’s German baking-powder, 2 lbs. of flour, 6 oz. of butter, 1/4 lb. of lard, 1 lb. of currants, 1/2 lb. of stoned and cut raisins, 1/4 lb. of mixed candied peel, 1/2 lb. of moist sugar, 3 eggs, 3/4 pint of cold milk.


I don’t think Borwick’s still exists in Germany (at least, it’s not a brand I’ve seen on the shelves here, although I intend to do some research about that today), but I found an alternative German backpulver readily enough from my local organic supermarkt.  I substituted ”lard” for extra butter, and regular sugar for ”moist sugar” (what is ”moist sugar”, anyway?).

The original recipe called for it to be baked “in a good oven” for between 2 1/4 and 2 3/4 hours.  In a modern oven at 180 or so degrees C, I found that 45 minutes was perfectly fine.

The cake was a little on the dry side – I don’t know if 45 minutes was too long, or the ”moist sugar” was supposed to provide more moisture.  Next time, I’d probably increase the amount of milk to see if that does the trick.

Either way, it’s a nice cake – nothing madly exciting, but pleasant enough with a cup of tea or coffee.  Which is precisely what I did as soon as it had cooled sufficiently – the candied peel (in this case, orange) gave it a very tempting aroma.


Holiday Cake recipe (Recipe 1763):

Day 41: Champagne Jelly and Ice-cream

December 28, 2009

This is the story of a 2/3rds empty bottle of Champagne (or, to be precise, German Sekt) that was sitting in our fridge until earlier today.

Like all good stories, I won’t reveal if this has a happy or a sad ending for the Sekt until the end of the tale.

Its owner, feeling that too much alcohol imbibed over the course of Christmas festivities surely couldn’t be the best thing for her health or sanity, decided that Something Must Be Done To Get Rid of It In a Satisfactory Way.

The easiest option was, of course, simply to down the rest and be done with it.  Surely that would meet with the approval of its other owner, who has more than once commented that his girlfriend is easier to handle after a glass of vino.  (I don’t necessarily mean physically of course, merely that she’s more likely to agree with whatever he’s saying at the time.  ‘Dragon Age’? Of course you can play it all day and all night!).

However, a long-gone but very persistent author by the name of Isabella Beeton wasn’t going to let the Sekt end its days so ignominiously. The words  ‘Champagne Jelly’ flitted tantalisingly, yet mysteriously, past the girlfriend’s eyes as she scrolled through Household Management’s online version (  And no, I don’t get kick-backs for promoting this site!).

I say mysteriously, because Mrs Beeton gives no recipe for Champagne Jelly, although she mentions it at least twice in her mighty tome.

Using logical deduction and sound reasoning, the girlfriend put two-and-three together and got five.  Or at least, a simple but hopefully accurate recipe.

Champagne Jelly: For every 1 lb of Champagne / Sekt / similar beverage, combine with 3/4 lb sugar.  Simmer both together over a medium-to-low heat until somewhat reduced and thickened (approximately 1 hour).  Chill in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours until set.  Serve.

The clever girlfriend realised that her boyfriend could be persuaded to try this dish if accompanied by something else he simply can’t resist – ice-cream.

She poured a little over the creamy dessert and presented it to him.  With bated breath, she enquired as to his opinion.

“It’s ice-creamy I guess,” he replied.  “It’s good.”  And so thought she.

Although best described as a syrup rather than a jelly, it adds a rather sweet and, well, syrupy, dollop of tastiness to a humble bowl of vanilla ice-cream.

And so they all lived happily ever after.  Except for the 1/3rd bottle of Sekt, of course.

The next post will appear at the beginning of January 2010.

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Day 37: Would you like bread sauce with that?

December 24, 2009

Cranberry Sauce is so last year.

When I think of Christmas sauces, both Cranberry sauce and regular gravy immediately spring  to mind.  What I want to do this year is something completely different – but not too complicated.  But tasty.  And it’s got to be something my boyfriend won’t reject before even tasting it. (”Eww, I’m sorry, but I’m not eating that!” has been heard more than once in this household).

Here’s something I thought would fit the bill on all counts:

Bread Sauce: INGREDIENTS – 1 pint of milk, 3/4 of the crumb of a stale loaf, 1 onion; pounded mace, cayenne, and salt to taste; 1 oz. of butter.

Mode.—Peel and quarter the onion, and simmer it in the milk till perfectly tender. Break the bread, which should be stale, into small pieces, carefully picking out any hard outside pieces; put it in a very clean saucepan, strain the milk over it, cover it up, and let it remain for an hour to soak. Now beat it up with a fork very smoothly, add a seasoning of pounded mace, cayenne, and salt, with 1 oz. of butter; give the whole one boil, and serve. To enrich this sauce, a small quantity of cream may be added just before sending it to table.

It takes no time to prepare (sure, the bread & milk mix have to be set aside for an hour, but the preparation time itself is nothing).  I don’t have kitchen scales so I had to guess the weight of the bread – the sauce was not as liquidy as I guess it’s supposed to be, but that didn’t affect the taste one bit. I substituted nutmeg for mace as I didn’t have any, and a mix of fresh and ever-so-slightly stale bread.  The addition of cream at the end made a subtle but obvious difference – however, even without the cream it still tasted fantastic.

We tried it tonight with our steak (vegetarian and non-vegetarian) and veg.  Mmmm.

Simple.  Easy.  Totally delicious.  My boyfriend’s verdict:  ”Hmmm, very nice.  Very… bready.  Nice!”.

Merry Christmas everyone!

PS I tried this the next day with more milk added to make it look more saucy – even better.

Bread Sauce Recipe: (Recipe 371)

Day 33: To Cook or Not to Cook

December 20, 2009

It’s now been a month since I started this Household Management challenge.

Looking back over the last 33 days, it’s already been an incredibly interesting journey.  I’ve tried quite a few things that I’d never have tried otherwise (Carrot Jam, Dampfnudeln).  Some things I won’t be trying again (Apple Soup, anyone?), but others will probably stick with me long after Mrs Beeton in 365 Days is over.  My household accounts are already in far better shape, for one.

But the thing is, when I first started this experiment I thought the focus would be much more ‘’householdy’’.  Instead, a lot of this challenge has so far revolved around the kitchen.  In a way, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management is really just a cookery book, with the kitchen as the star, the diva, the prima donna.  The chapters that provide advice to members of the household – the supporting cast, if you will – act as the backdrop against which the kitchen can properly function.

Part of the problem in applying Victorian advice to the 21st century, is that a lot of it just isn’t that relevant anymore.  At least, not in ordinary, non-toff households.  No one I know has a Butler, Footman, Housekeeper, Cook, Maid-of-all-Work, Laundry Maid, Cook, etc. (sometimes I wish I did!).

My boyfriend and I hired a weekly cleaner several months ago, which was possibly the biggest thrill I’ve felt since discovering Bretzeln (freshly baked pretzels).   But I felt so awkward about having a stranger in the house, and not knowing the proper employer-cleaner etiquette, that we let her go within a couple of months.

The core of Household Management – the beautiful, bountiful recipe sections – remains absolutely relevant today.  Even if the world were to be taken over by robots and aliens tomorrow, cooking – and the kitchen – will always play a central role in daily life.  A world without it wouldn’t be a world worth living in.

In the meantime, as it’s still apple season here in Germany, I lugged home 4 kilos from the market yesterday.  I spent the entire day in the kitchen, with Household Management by my side.  Most of the day was spent making preserves, including Apple Sauce.  I also made another quantity of her delicious custard, which I liberally doused over some Apple Crumble for dessert this evening.

Perhaps I’m making too hasty a judgment about Household Management’s wider value outside the kitchen (after all, it’s fairly long and I have several hundred pages yet to get through).

332 more days will tell!

Apple Sauce: (Recipe 363)

Day 31: The Battle of the Hausfraus

December 18, 2009

One of my colleagues told me today about a serious custom linked to this time of year.

Towards Christmas, housewives across Germany battle it out to produce the most applaudable Weihnachts Plätzchen (Christmas biscuits).  They each exchange biscuits with other women and compare their own to everyone else’s.  Reputations are rapidly destroyed or founded over the festive season.

As you can imagine, the competition is intense.  Rivalry is savage.  Reviews can be deadly.

Although I’m nowhere near as established here in Germany yet to even consider taking part in all of this, I thought I’d make my own small contribution by looking into what Mrs Beeton has to offer, biscuit-wise.

I initially thought of making mince pies (OK they’re not biscuits, but they sure are festive – and unknown here in Germany).  But when I saw the amount of prior preparation involved (…“press the whole {mincemeat}into a jar, carefully exclude the air, and the mincemeat will be ready for use in a fortnight”), I opted for something decidedly more convenient.

Lemon Biscuits

Seed Biscuits

Savoy Biscuits

(See recipe links below)

When I was younger, my mother used to subtly hint that I couldn’t bake biscuits to save my life (Mother: ”You can’t bake biscuits to save your life”).  Although I can cook pretty much anything else, successful biscuits in those days often eluded me.  I like to think that I’ve improved over the years, but sometimes it’s still a close call.

Lemon Biscuits: This was the quickest recipe of the 3.  25 minutes passed between getting the mixing bowl out of the drawer and putting the baked biscuits on the cooling rack.  Light, slightly crispy and tasty.

Seed Biscuits: This was also pretty fast.  They have a slighty savoury taste, with the taste of the caraway seeds coming almost as a surprise when you bite into them.  The dough was stiff enough to allow me to use some cutesy animal-shaped biscuit cutters.  If you can’t go a little crazy at Christmas, when can you?

Savoy Biscuits: Or, Savoy Disaster more like.  Before even starting on them, I knew the process wasn’t going to be so easy.  A lot of whisking is required – an automatic whisker would save a lot of trouble, but I decided to do it manually as I had quartered the quantities – not enough for a machine to do.  That was my second mistake (the first was attempting the recipe to begin with, given my track record).  Whisking the mix to a stiff, light froth is key – and I stunningly failed to do, as my arm got tired after 15 minutes of beating and I began to give up.  I then decided to cheat and put the mix (slop) into a small baking dish, as it was too runny to separate into individual biscuits.  I’ll cut it up later, I thought.  Only when it was in the oven did I realise my 3rd mistake – I hadn’t put the flour into the mix.  At that point I completely gave up and switched off the oven.

Sitting here now with some tea and biscuits, I have to say that I’m really quite happy with the first two recipes.  But as for the third – perhaps my mother was right.

Lemon Biscuit. Seed Biscuit and Savoy Biscuit Recipes: (Numbers 1743, 1749 and 1748 respectively)

Day 27: How Not to Go Insane Over Household Spending (Part 2)

December 14, 2009

It’s 10.53pm, I’m utterly knackered, and all I want to do is get everything ready for the morning and crawl under the covers of my warm, ever-so-slightly cat-haired duvet.  Bliss.

But there’s something that’s been looming over me for the last few days: something that simply won’t be shooed away by sighs of weariness and attempts to ‘’think about it tomorrow”.

Ah, household accounts.  How I love thee.  When they’re done, that is.

As it’s been nearly a month since my renewed flush of enthusiasm, and with Saint Nick-related spending emptying one’s pockets, I realize it’s vital to keep on top of our end-of-year spending.  At the same time, a flicker of trepidation at just how much that might be at this stage contributed to a reluctance to do the accounts each day as vowed.  Catch 22.

With a glass of wine to fortify the effort, and playful cats gleefully darting after the scrunched-up paper balls, I set to work on the small mound of receipts, IOUs and mental notes that awaited attention.

The new system, as suggested by Isabella Beeton, breaks spending down into specific categories (Fruit & Vegetables, Meat, etc.).  At the top of each column is its monthly limit.  Entries are (or should be) regularly made with a running total calculated every few days to help keep a tab on things.

In spite of added festive spending for the kitchen and Beeton-inspired experiments, I exhaled with relief when each column’s current month-to-date total came in well under the limit I’d set.

So, by keeping a close eye on the accounts and trying to register everything on a daily basis, I’m sure I can continue to achieve this.

Moral of the story:  A close eye on your budget = a tight rein on your spending.

Likely outcome of the story: I’m afraid that I’m no fiscal saint, try as I might.  I’ll commit to updating it at least twice a week and see how it goes.  So far, the results are much more encouraging compared to my previous way of managing things.

Day 25: Heavenly, Buttery Shortbread

December 13, 2009

I must say, it’s terrific fun to try so many new recipes.

At this time of year, I’m thinking of what end-of-year gesture I can make to colleagues.  The idea of baking some cakes and biscuits for everyone to share is the most appealing – it’s fun for me, enjoyable for them, and does away with the overly-commercial (and superficial) pressure to buy and give a zillion unwanted gifts.

Isabella Beeton provides a simple recipe for shortbread (see bottom of page).  I’ve never thought of making this before (I mean, doesn’t it just come in a Walker’s box?).  But, as it’s so tastily festive, I added it to my little list of goodies to bake this weekend (I’m going on holiday after this week).

Step 1: Cream the butter (by-the-by, have you ever noticed just how heavenly the smell of butter really is?  Usually I use it at fridge temperature and in small quantities but, as a lot is required for shortbread, I found myself beating a larger-than-usual quantity.  The scent is creamy, sweet paradise.

Step 2: Gradually incorporate the flour and other ingredients.  Isabella describes the result as a ‘paste’, but I ended up with a clingy, crumbly mixture.  Unfortunately I don’t have kitchen scales, so measurements were converted into cups (1 cup of flour = 120 grams and so on…).   However, the mixture stuck together when I pressed it into a square tray and pricked it all over before baking.

Step 3: Slide the tray into the oven and drool in anticipation for 25 minutes.  The recipe calls for ‘a good oven’ temperature; so I opted for 190 °C, which worked out just fine.

Despite nearly winding myself and losing an eye when cracking open the almonds (I bought them market-fresh, then crushed them in a pestle-and-mortar – those hardy shells make for determined missiles if cracked too energetically), all-in-all this was a supremely simple recipe to follow.

The shortbread, once it had cooled down, was really delicious – delicately buttery and crumble-creamily–in-your-mouth in texture.  It  was, perhaps, slightly under-sweet for modern tastes, so next time I’d probably add an extra spoon or two of sugar.  Otherwise, absolutely perfect.


Scotch Shortbread Recipe: (Recipe 1780)