Nollaig Na mBan…
That’s the enchanting Irish name given to Women’s, Little Christmas on the 6th of January– the feast of the Epiphany.
It’s the traditional end of the Christmas season, the day we take down the Christmas tree and pack the baubles and tinsel into the attic for another year. But most importantly, it’s the day when the women of Ireland get to have time off from household chores after all the festive cooking.
A special day to get together with friends, sisters, mothers and aunts…The men, cheerfully take over the household for the day so the women can gather together to party and have a glass of fizz.
I was surprised to discover that many other countries have a similar tradition although the date sometimes varies. The Nordic countries have many customs, as have Ukraine, Slovenia, Galicia and closer to home there are high jinks and ceilis in the Scottish highlands it’s called, Là Féill nan Rìgh, The Feast of the Kings in Gaelic. La Fête des Rois is also celebrated in France with the delicious Galette des Rois as the centre piece of the table. Every boulangére offers their version of the flaky pastry galette, with a little trinket known as a ‘fève’ hidden deep inside the marzipan filling. Each comes with a golden paper crown which the lucky person who finds the fève in their slice will wear when they are crowned king for the day.
Here in Ireland the custom had almost disappeared, apart from in the counties of Cork and Kerry but there has been an enthusiastic revival of Women’s Little Christmas in recent years. Many restaurants and hotels are offering jolly Nollaig na bMan celebrations with exciting entertainment, dancing and music as well as afternoon tea or dinner so the womenfolk can enjoy a night out.
Just found this funny poem on social media penned by Nuala Woulfe @NWoulfeWriter – a few lines to whet your appetite.
Mammys on the Dance Floor
Mammys on the dance floor, let out for the night,
Dancing round their handbags, whopping with delight,
Mammys on the dance floor, kicking up the dust
Checking out the six packs, overcome with lust!
Mammys on the dance floor, one more round of beer,
Eyeing up the bouncers, giving them the leer…..
So off you go ladies, let the hair down, but if you’d like a delectable afternoon tea and a gossip around the fire, instead here are some of my favourite sweet treats for those who love to bake…
Ballymaloe Sausage Rolls with Caraway Seeds
Makes 8 – 16 depending on size
450g (1lb) best quality Sausages
450g (1lb) Puff Pastry (see recipe)
Egg Wash: 1 egg and a drop of milk
50g (2ozs) Caraway seeds or sesame seeds
Form the sausage meat into rolls, either regular or jumbo size to fit the pastry.
Roll the pastry into a rectangle about 4mm (1/6 inch) thick. Lay the sausage meat along the wider side 5cm (2 inch) from the edge. Brush with egg wash or water. Fold over the excess pastry, press to seal and cut along the edge. Flake the edge with a knife or seal with a fork. Brush the top of pastry with egg wash and prick the surface with a fork at 1” (2cm) intervals. Cover and chill. Repeat with the remainder.
Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8.
Before cooking cut into 8’s or 16’s . Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with optional caraway seeds. Cook for 20-25 minutes depending on size.
Galette des Rois
In France on the Festival of the Kings on 6th January, over 50 million flaky galette des rois are eaten. Tucked into the soft frangipane filling is a little surprise for the lucky person who chooses that slice. There is a wonderful ritual played out every year, where everyone sits around the dining table but the youngest child climbs underneath. As the galette is served, slice by slice, Madame points at the portion and asks ‘Who is that slice for ?’ The child calls out each person’s name, the lucky person who finds the feve in their slice is the king and the golden crown is placed on their head. As the king raises a glass everyone choruses, ‘The king drinks, the king drinks!’
450g all butter puff pastry chilled
110g (4oz) ground almonds
110g (4 ozs) castor sugar
40g (1½ ozs) melted butter
2 egg yolks, preferably free range and organic
2 tablespoons double cream
1 dessertspoon rum (optional)
Egg wash made with 1 beaten egg and a tiny pinch of salt
Softly whipped cream
Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/gas mark 8
Divide the pastry in half, roll out just less than 5mm (¼ inch thick), cut into 2 circles approx. 10 inch (25.5cm) in diameter. Put one onto a damp baking sheet, Keep both pieces chilled in the fridge while you make the filling (the second piece could be on a sheet of parchment paper on a plate in the fridge).
Mix all the ingredients for the filling together (except the egg wash) in a bowl until smooth. Put the filling onto the pastry base, leaving a rim of about 1 inch (2.5mm) free around the edge. Brush the rim with beaten egg or water and put on the lid of puff pastry, press it down well around the edges. Flute the edges with a knife.
Make a small hole in the centre brush with egg wash and leave for 5 minutes in the refrigerator. With the back of a knife, nick the edge of the pastry 12 times at regular intervals to form a scalloped edge with a rose petal effect. Mark long curving lines from the central hole outwards to designate formal petals. Be careful not to cut through the pastry just score it.*
Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven, then lower the heat to 200C/400F/regulo 6 and bake for 30 minutes approx. until well risen and golden. While still hot dredge heavily with icing sugar and return to a very hot oven or pop under a grill (Do Not Leave the Grill) – the sugar will melt and caramelize to a dark brown glaze. Serve warm or cold with a bowl of softly whipped cream.
*Note: Galette des Rois is best eaten warm, but it also keeps well and may be reheated
Lemon Curd Meringue Cupcakes
225g (8oz) butter (at room temperature)
225g (8oz) caster sugar
225g (8oz) self-raising flour
4 organic large eggs
zest of 2 lemons
2 ozs (50g) butter
4 ozs (110g) caster sugar
grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
2 organic eggs and 1 organic egg yolk whisked (keep white aside for meringue)
Lemon Curd Cream
110ml (4floz) mascarpone
4 tablespoons lemon curd (see recipe)
2 tablespoons sieved icing sugar
Meringue Kisses (see recipe)
sprig of Lemon Balm or Lemon Verbena
2 muffin tins lined with 24 muffin cases.
Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
First make the cupcakes.
Put all ingredients into a food processer, whizz until smooth.
Divide mixture evenly between cases in muffin tin.
Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until risen and golden.
Meanwhile, make the lemon curd.
Melt the butter on a very low heat. Add the caster sugar, lemon zest and juice and then add the whisked eggs. Stir carefully over a gentle heat with a straight ended wooden spatula until the mixture coats the back it. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
2 egg whites
4½ ozs (117g/1 cup approx.) icing sugar
To make the meringue
Line a baking sheet with silicone paper.
Mix all the sugar with the egg whites at once and beat until the mixture forms stiff dry peaks. Drop little ‘blobs’ of the mixture on to the baking sheet and flatten slightly with a teaspoon. Bake immediately in a low oven 150°C/300°F/regulo 2 for 10-15 minutes or until set crisp.
Mix the lemon curd into the mascarpone and add the sieved icing sugar. Put into a piping bag with a medium sized plain nozzle. Put the remainder of the lemon curd into a piping bag with a small plain nozzle.
Insert the nozzle into the top of the cupcake and squeeze in a small teaspoon of lemon curd. Pipe a blob of lemon cream over the top. It should almost cover the top of the cupcake. Top with a little more lemon curd and pop a meringue kiss on top, garnish with a sprig of lemon balm or lemon verbena. Eat as soon as possible.
Tender Loving Care Biscuits (known as TLC’s in our house)
These little oatmeal and coffee sandwich biscuit are super delicious.
Makes about 10 iced biscuits (depending on the size of the cutter used)
110g (4 ozs) butter
50g (2 ozs) castor sugar
1 dessertspoon golden syrup
55g (2 ozs) flour
150g (5 ozs) oatmeal (porridge oats)
55g (2 ozs) dessicated coconut
A pinch of salt
A pinch of bread soda (bicarbonate of soda)
50g (2 ozs) butter
75g (3 ozs) icing sugar
Coffee essence – 1 teaspoon approx.
110g (4 ozs) icing sugar
1 tablespoon approx. boiling water
1 teaspoons approx. coffee essence
10 – 12 walnuts
Use a 12 inch (4cm) cutter
Cream the butter and sugar and add in the golden syrup, gradually stir in the dry ingredients and mix well.
Roll out on to a floured board to about inch (5mm) thickness – the mixture will be slightly sticky and will be a little difficult to handle. Stamp out into rounds with a cutter and bake in a moderate oven 180C/350F/regulo 4 until golden. They will take approx.12-15 minutes.
Remove to a wire rack and allow to become quite cold. Meanwhile make the filling and icings.
Cream the butter and add in the sieved icing sugar, beat until light and fluffy and then add the coffee essence. Spread a little on each biscuit and sandwich two biscuits together.
Sieve the icing sugar, add the coffee essence and enough boiling water to mix to a spreading consistency, very little does, so be careful not to add too much. Spread a little blob of icing on top of each biscuit and decorate with a walnut half.
Little Choccie Mousses
Serve in little glasses, chocolate mousse is very rich – so don’t serve too large helpings.
225g (8ozs) plain chocolate (we use 52% Callebaut)
1 tablespoon of Jamaican rum
4 free range eggs, separated
crème fraiche or softly whipped cream to serve
Break chocolate into small pieces and put into a Pyrex bowl, melt over a saucepan of hot water. As soon as the water comes to the boil turn off the heat and allow to soften. Stir until melted and smooth. Remove, cool, whisk in the rum and egg yolks one by one. Whisk the egg whites stiffly and fold gently into the melted chocolate. Fill into small bowls or glasses. Allow to set in a fridge.
Serve with a blob of crème fraiche.
These little pots are very rich so extra crème fraîche may be welcome.
Darina’s Coconut and Jelly Cakes
Makes 18 – 20
150g (5ozs) butter (at room temperature)
150g (5ozs) caster sugar
150g (5ozs) self raising flour
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons milk
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Redcurrant jelly or redcurrant jelly mixed with raspberry jam
110g (4oz) desiccated coconut
300ml (10floz) cream
2 teaspoons icing sugar
2 muffin tins lined with 18 muffin cases.
Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
Put all ingredients except milk into a food processer, whizz until smooth. Scrape down sides of the bowl, then add milk and whizz again.
Divide mixture evenly between cases in muffin tin. Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until risen and golden. Allow to cool on a wire cake rack.
Whip the cream with the sieved icing sugar and spoon into a piping bag.
Dip or brush each bun with the jelly, roll in desiccated coconut. Cut the top third of each cake almost all the way through and pipe in a large rosette of cream.
Serve immediately. Unfilled cakes can be kept in an airtight tin for a day or two.