Women’s Little Christmas

W

This Christmas our Christmas present to all our extended family and many of our friends was ‘food from the farm’, a roll of homemade Jersey butter, a jam jar full of thick unctuous yoghurt with a nice layer of cream on top, a chunk of cheese, a bottle of elderflower cordial, a dozen or more freshly laid organic eggs, maybe a few sprouts, a big bunch of kale and some traditional home cured pork. Not a whiff of Joe Malone (delish as it is) or Chanel in sight and the response was, unless I misjudged, unbridled delight. Home grown and home made is so cool once again.

Several times over Christmas friends were discussing vegetable varieties they planned to grow. The grandchildren were each given a Red Sentinel crab apple tree by their Uncle Rory; others got apple trees or blackcurrant and gooseberry bushes. My sister-in-law gave all her grandchildren a hen each to lay a special little egg for their breakfast but also to teach them how to care for poultry and how useful the manure is to add zing to the compost bed which in turn will make the soil more fertile to grow more beautiful vegetables and herbs. Everyone seemed to be on a mission to reconnect with nature and to do ‘even a little something’ themselves.

The tradition of Little Christmas or Nollaig na Mban is also gathering momentum again. The Twelfth Day of Christmas was widely known in Ireland as Nollaig na mBan – Women’s Chrismas. Over the festive season the men would have been pampered and eaten their fill of various meats and indeed often drunk to excess, but January 6 th was the womens’ own feast. There would be a splendid high tea when all the dainties that the women really enjoyed were served. Thinly sliced white bread and homemade jam and cream, fluffy sponge cakes and tiny buns decorated with swirls of icing – and as if that wasn’t enough, plum cake, gingerbread, warm apple cakes and pots of the finest tea. On January 7 th the Christmas decorations were taken down and until quite recently there was a widespread custom of keeping aside the holly and wilted greenery to heat the pancake griddle on Shrove Tuesday.

Nowadays it’s a lovely opportunity for women to get together over afternoon tea or dinner to spend a carefree evening after the excesses and stresses of Christmas. In France, they celebrate the Feast of the Kings with the traditional Galette du Rois. Every Boulangerie has its own version of this recipe but this one is hard to beat and is easy to make, so one can start the tradition in your home.

Galette du Roi

 In France, on the Festival of the Kings over 50 million flaky Galette du Roi 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, 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 this slice for?’ The child calls out each person’s name in turn, 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 to ‘his’ lips everyone choruses ‘the king drinks, the king drinks!’

Serves 8

1lb (450g) Puff Pastry

Filling

3ozs (75g) ground hazelnuts toasted, freshly ground

1oz (25g) ground almonds

4 ozs (110g) castor sugar

1½ ozs (45g) melted butter

2 egg yolks, preferably free range

2 tablesp. double cream

1 dessertsp. rum (optional)

Egg wash made with 1 beaten egg and a tiny pinch of salt

Glaze

Icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/regulo 6.

Put the hazelnuts onto a baking tray. Bake until the skins loosen.

Remove nuts from oven and place in a tea towel. Rub off the loose papery skins. Let cool. Grind the nuts in a nut grinder or chop in a food processor.

Increase oven temperature to 230°C/450°F/regulo 8.

Divide the pastry in half, roll out just less than ¼ inch thick, cut into 2 circles approx. 10 inch (25.5cm) in diameter. Put one onto a damp baking sheet, chill and chill the other piece also.

Mix all the ingredients for the filling together 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.

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. 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 du Roi is best eaten warm, but it also keeps well and may be reheated

Gingerbread

Traditionally in Ireland, we make gingerbread in a loaf tin and cut it into thick slices and slather them with butter. This one is particularly good when it’s fresh, so eat it quickly! Alternatively bake in a 22cm x 7.5cm (9 x 3 inch) square brownie tin for 40-45 minutes, serve cut into 12 x 7.5cm x 10cm (3 x 4 inch) squares with a blob of cold apple puree and cream or with crystallised ginger with cream.

Makes 1 loaf

225g (1/2 lb) white flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

110g (4oz) soft brown sugar

75g (3oz) butter, cut into cubes

175g (6oz) treacle

150ml (5fl oz) milk

1 very small or 1/2 organic egg

50g (2oz) sultanas

25g (1oz) chopped crystallised ginger (optional)

wipped cream

1 x 23cm (9 inches) x 12.5cm (5 inches) x 6.5cm (2 1/2 inches) loaf tin lined with silicone paper

Preheat the oven to 180°C\350°F\gas mark 4.

First line the loaf tin with silicone paper.

Sieve all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Gently warm the brown sugar with the cubed butter and treacle. Then add the milk. Allow to cool a little and stir into the dry ingredients and make sure that there are no little lumps of flour left (I use a whisk for this). Add the beaten egg and the sultanas and ginger if desired. Mix very thoroughly and. Bake in a lined loaf tin for approximately 1 hour in a moderate oven. Cool in the tin. Serve with butter or a little whipped cream with crystallised ginger.

Whisked Sponge Cake with Kumquat Compote

Serves 8

4 eggs, preferably free range

4 ozs (110g) castor sugar

1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract

4 ozs (110g) plain white flour

Filling

Kumquat Compote – see recipe

Mint, Lemon Balm or Sweet Cicely to decorate

Castor sugar for sprinkling on top

2 x 7 inch (20cm) tins

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gast mark 4.

Grease the tins carefully with melted butter, dust with flour, cut out a circle of greaseproof paper and fit it neatly onto the base of each tin.

Put the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract into a bowl and whisk until it is a pale and fluffy mousse. When you lift the whisk, make a figure of 8 on top: it should hold its shape for several seconds. Put the flour into a sieve and sift about one-third gently over the mousse; fold in the flour with a spatula or a long-handled metal spoon (not a wooden spoon) and then sieve in some more; repeat until all the flour is lightly folded in. Turn gently in the prepared tins and bake in the preheated oven, for 20 minutes approx., until cooked. Turn out on a wire tray, peel off the greaseproof paper and allow to cool.

Once cool, whip the cream until it forms soft peaks. Spread the cream over the base sponge and then spoon the drained kumquat compote evenly on it. Lay the remaining sponge onto the filling and press gently. Sprinkle castor sugar over the top of cake. Serve soon.

Kumquat Compôte

A gem of a recipe, this compôte can be served as a dessert or as an accompaniment to roast duck, goose or glazed ham. Also delicious with goat’s cheese or yoghurt and makes a gorgeous filling for a light fluffy sponge cake. This compote keeps for weeks in the fridge.

Serves 6-20 depending on how it is served

235g (8 1/2 oz) kumquats

200ml (7fl oz) water

110g (4oz) sugar

Slice the kumquats into four or five rounds depending on size, remove the seeds. Put the kumquats into a saucepan with the water and sugar and let them cook very gently, covered, for half an hour or until tender.

Lemon Curd Meringue Cupcakes

Makes 24

Cupcakes

225g (8oz) butter (at room temperature)

225g (8oz) caster sugar

225g (8oz) self-raising flour

4 organic large eggs

zest of 2 lemons

Lemon Curd

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 (4fl oz) mascarpone

4 tablespoons lemon curd (see recipe)

2 tablespoons sieved icing sugar

Meringue Kisses (see recipe)

Garnish

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.

To assemble

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 meringue kiss and garnish with a sprig of lemon balm or lemon verbena. Eat as soon as possible.

Meringue Kisses

Makes 30

2 egg whites

110g (4oz) caster sugar

Preheat oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2.

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. Put into a piping bag with a star nozzle and pipe into 4cm (1 1/2 inch) rosettes on to the baking sheet. Bake immediately in the preheated oven for 45-50 minutes or until set crisp.

Hottips

Midleton College Cook Book

– it’s so brilliant to see so many schools pushing out the posts to reconnect children with how food is produced teaching them how to grow and cook – valuable skills for life. Midleton College is a shining example; they have 30 free-range hens, 5 Gloucester Old Spot pigs, a new home economics room and a chef who really cares about cooking food that nourishes the children and a headmaster – Simon Thompson – who inspires them all. Recently they self-published the Midleton College Cookbook with contributions from students and parents past and present. For €15.00 it’s really worth seeking out, there are quite a few gems in it.

Vegetables for the Irish Garden by Klaus Laitenberger

– a brilliant book suitable for Irish conditions. Another is Michael Brenock’s The Irish Gardener’s Handbook – a great read as now is the perfect time to think about what you would like to grow in the Spring.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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