‘Tis the Season

14 Dec

Daria Wallace

For me, as for a lot of people, the food is one of the main attractions of the Christmas season, and I don’t just mean Christmas dinner. I have, in fact, never in my life eaten turkey, except at school (we always, for some reason, have duck – Chinese style). In the Wallace household, the Christmas extravaganza starts in Advent with mass biscuit baking, a tradition we owe to my German mother, and one of my personal favourites. Aside from the general communal vibe (which, I admit, often includes communal singing – yes, we really are that cheesy) which surrounds a table of people covered in flour, eating bits of dough on the sly, and generally feeling festive; the products are truly delicious. If you have never had the pleasure of sampling some Weihnachtsplaetzchen, or you feel like an alternative to mince pies this Christmas, now is your chance: the recipes here are for a few different kinds, although there are many more (believe me, the decisions were difficult!).

Vanillekipferl (Vanilla Crescents)

These are originally a Viennese recipe, and come from around the time of the Ottoman invasion of Austria – the crescent represents the crescent of the Turkish flag.

125g ground hazelnuts (or almonds, if you prefer)

650-700g plain flour

375g butter

4tbsps of icing sugar, plus a lot extra.

1 vanilla pod.

Open the vanilla pod and scrape out the seeds, add them along with the pod to the extra icing sugar in a tub, mix around a bit and leave to one side.

To make the biscuit dough, just mix all the remaining ingredients together with your hands. You will need a lot of kneading and a lot of patience for this task – it seems for a very long time like it’s not going to work, but I promise, there is a moment when it all just comes together. When you’ve formed a smooth dough wrap it up and put it in the fridge for about 2 hours. Now form the dough on a lightly floured surface into little sausage shapes (about 3cm long) and bend them in the middle to make a crescent. At this point they will probably look a bit like maggots. People have different methods for this part of the procedure: I find it easier to form each crescent individually, moulding it against the table, as the dough is very brittle – my sister prefers to roll one long sausage and cut it into bits. Bake in the oven at around 180ºwithout letting them brown. As soon as they are done take them out and toss them in your vanilla icing sugar mix while they are still hot, so the sugar sticks to them. Be careful of both burns and breakages as the biscuits are very hot and very brittle. These are probably the most difficult to make, but arguably also the tastiest!

Spitzbuben (These are a bit like jammy dodgers but 1000 times better!)

200g butter

100g sugar

1 packet vanilla sugar (or a few drops of vanilla essence)

300g plain flour

Redcurrant jam/jelly (lingonberry jam from Ikea works just as well)

Icing sugar

Knead the butter, sugar, vanilla sugar and flour into a dough. Roll it out and cut into circles using a cookie cutter. Using a smaller cookie cutter (preferably a different shape, like a star :), cut a hole in the middle of half of the circles. Bake at 180º for about 10 minutes. When they are done, spread the half without holes with the redcurrant jam and stick the other half on top. Dust with icing sugar. These are potentially my favourites – both for the way they taste and the way they look.

Haselnuss Makronen (Hazelnut Macaroons)

3 egg-whites

250g caster sugar

1 packet of vanilla sugar (or couple of drops vanilla essence)

250g ground hazelnuts/almonds/a mix of the two (you could also use pistachios)

1 packet of whole hazelnuts

Whisk the egg-whites. Add a tablespoon of sugar, and continue whisking until stiff. Gradually add the rest of the sugar and continue whisking the whole time. Gently fold in the ground nuts without knocking the air out of the egg-whites. Spoon little blobs onto greaseproof paper (ideally use rice paper to avoid any problems of sticking) and add a whole hazelnut on top of each one. Leave to dry out for about 25 minutes. Bake at around 160º for 35-40 minutes.

Splats/Spiders’ webs (Not sure what the real name for these are…)

100g ground almonds

100g sugar

100g butter

1 tbsp flour (not too heaped)

2 tbsps cream

Put all the ingredients in a saucepan and mix together over a heat until the butter is melted and everything is combined – try not to let it start cooking properly. Spoon little blobs with a teaspoon onto baking paper really far apart – these spread out a very, very long way! They end up looking a bit like spiders’ webs, and if you are feeling brave you can try bending them around a rolling pin while they are still warm. Bake for a very short amount of time until golden brown at 180º.

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