I’ve always loved Advent and the lead up to Christmas, its a time of year that has always held a lot of magic for me, especially as a child. Over the years as my sister and I grew up and moved away from home it changed but it nevertheless remained a favourite time of year for both of us. Now with a new baby in the family (who I’m finally going to meet next week) the magic of Christmas seems to have been rekindled. I’ve found myself making Christmas cards (something I haven’t done for years), baking Christmas cookies and bread and generally getting very much into the festive spirit.
Growing up, the house always smelt of spices and baking in the run up to Christmas. My mum’s German recipe book appeared on the kitchen table, over which my sister and I used to spend hours ogling as well as helping my mum bake; a messy affair when we were young but it became more civilized as we grew older. My grandparents used to come over from Germany to visit every Christmas, their suitcases bursting with biscuits and my all time favourite, Stollen, which my grandmother used to make a month or two before to let it mature.
So this year I decided I would resurrect some of the family Christmas traditions in London and do some baking. My Sunday afternoon shop saw me laden down with dark rum, mixed peel, ground almonds and a number of other equally Christmassy ingredients. For the next three hours or so my kitchen was turned upside down as I set out to re create two German classics!
To start with I decided to make the Stollen, not a recipe that needed a few weeks to mature, but one that could be eaten straight away as I only have a
week to consume it before heading off to sunnier climates for Christmas. It wasn’t an overly complex recipe, however, it did require quite a bit of time as the dough had to rise twice. To start with I put the raisins and mixed peel in a bowl together with a few tablespoons of rum and left them to soak. While they were soaking I made the dough mixture which, once completed and kneaded I left to rise for an hour.
Next step was to make the marzipan, I was originally going to buy this, but I’m glad I opted out of buying it as it was very easy to make. I mixed ground almonds, icing sugar and one egg together and bingo, I had a rather tasty block of marzipan which I then left on the side to use later. Once the dough had risen I folded in the mixed peel and raisins, fashioned it into a loaf with the marzipan in the centre and left it to rise for half an hour.
When it was risen I glazed the top with an egg and popped it in the oven to bake. The kitchen and whole house smelt delicious of Christmas baking. One thing I will suggest if you decide to make Stollen (and I will do this next time) is to put the mixture in a round cake tray or if you don’t have a tray with a hole in the middle place a small glass bowl or empty can in the centre. Mine smelt and tasted amazing, but as it does spread out and rise in the oven, mine sadly spread out rather than up. But no harm, it still tasted delicious.
Next up was Lebkuchen, a German biscuit I had always bought rather than made, I thought I’d give it a try. Both quicker and easier to make than the Stollen, this took no time at all. The recipe is full of spices and sweety goodness; cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, almonds, honey and orange zest, and they turned out a treat. Once they were cooked and out of the oven I dipped each biscuit in icingand left them to cool.
So, an afternoon well spent if you ask me. And I can happily say that my baking was just a starter to what my sister, mum and I will concoct once we get together in Australia next week. But for now, seeing I’m not having a cold, nor traditional Christmas in the Northern hemisphere, my boyfriend has already taken me out for a delicious Christmas dinner and I’ve started baking and making Christmas cards. The tree setting and mince pie making will have to wait till next week, and my next blog ladies and gentlemen will come to you from down under!