Christmas Eve Traditions – Stollen and Cranberry Relish

Tree

Having had our pre-Christmas family gathering last weekend before my younger son and his girlfriend flew out to the States to spend Christmas with her American family, today has been a much quieter Christmas Eve than usual. I’m having Christmas lunch with my elder son’s fiancée’s family tomorrow, so no last-minute dinner preparations for me – that was last weekend with a venison-based dinner for 12! Oh, and Nigella’s chocolate tart for dessert – simply divine!

Christmas Eve wouldn’t feel right without doing certain traditional things, however. It’s become a tradition to make lemon cheese, and come to think of it, my grandmother (my mum’s mum) always served lemon cheese tartlets at Christmas tea too. I still have mince pies from last weekend, but Stollen is another festive treat I feel compelled to make. I made the marzipan last weekend (so much better than the bought stuff and simplicity itself to make!) and my trusty breadmaker (Panasonic) does most of the hard work. Then finally I had a last-minute call from my friends this morning to see if I had any cranberry sauce for dinner tomorrow; well, I don’t buy cranberry sauce (me?!), but it’s a matter of minutes to make if you can source cranberries at such a late hour – and again, infinitely nicer than the jars you can buy. The aromas of Stollen and cranberry relish cooking seem like the very essence of Christmas….

Stollen

1/2 tsp dried yeast (I use the organic Dove’s Farm quick yeast)

225g strong white flour

1 tsp sugar

25g butter

1 tbsp milk pwder

1/2 tsp salt

1 large egg

100ml water

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp mixed spice

100g mixed dried fruit of your choice

150g marzipan (see below)

Place the first 10 ingredients in a breadmaker (i.e. all apart from marzipan and fruit), and prepare using Basic Raisin Dough mode, adding the dried fruit when the machine beeps – unless you have a more modern version than mine, in which case you may well have a basket that neatly releases the fruit at the necessary time! Do NOT be tempted to add the fruit at the start, as the mixing process chops it to smithereens – not the effect you want! When ready, roll the dough out on a floured surface to a slipper shape about 20cm long and maybe 15cm or so across. Wet the edges lightly with cold water and then roll your marzipan into two long sausages, just shorter than the length of the dough. Place in two lines down the centre of the dough, then neatly wrap the dough over, pressing into the middle to ensure there is dough between the two marzipan logs. (You can make one fatter marzipan sausage too, but I quite like the double hit of marzipan you achieve this way.) Flip over and place on a greased baking sheet, cover with oiled clingfilm, then leave to prove for 2-3 hours in a warm kitchen (less if you have an airing cupboard or proving drawer!).

Stollen uncooked

Heat oven to 180°C, Gas 5, then brush the Stollen with milk or beaten egg and cook for 20-25 minutes until golden-brown and firm underneath. Brush with melted butter whilst still warm and dredge with icing sugar.

Serve warm with tea or mulled wine. Any leftovers are delicious toasted for breakfast too!

Stollen

Marzipan

225g ground almonds

225g icing sugar, sifted

225g caster sugar

1 egg, beaten

2 tsp lemon juice

1/4 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp almond extract

Put the almonds, icing and caster sugar into a large bowl and mix well. Beat in the remaining ingredients, until the paste is soft but not sticky. You may end up using your hands as it’s easier! Knead on a surface sprinkled with icing sugar until smooth. Wrap in clingfilm and store in the fridge until ready to use.

This amount makes plenty to cover a 20/25cm Christmas cake or to fill several Stollens and keeps well in the fridge. Also delicious as a topping for mince pies or mixed with apples, plums or apricots in pies….

Marzipan

Cranberry Relish

Cranberry Relish

 250 g fresh cranberries

5 tbsp port

1 orange, grated rind and juice

50g caster sugar

Put cranberries, orange juice and grated rind and port in a pan and simmer for 5 minutes or until the berries start to burst. Add sugar and cook for a further 5 minutes until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture thickens. Cool, then refrigerate until required.

Happy Christmas!

Viburnum Charles Lamont Dec 2015

Viburnum Charles Lamont in full bloom

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The Sweet Scents of Autumn

Autumn is a surprisingly scented time of year, from the assorted woodland smells of foliage in various stages of decay to the tiny but sweetly fragrant flowers on eleagnus shrubs. Walking down by our local reservoir in the sunshine the other morning, I was blown away by the fabulous fresh scent of the newly fallen larch needles as I crushed them underfoot. Yet another of my favourites is the Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum), with its bronze-pink tinted autumn leaves and their amazing aroma of candy floss and burnt sugar – an absolute delight for the senses on a crisp autumn day. Viburnums and mahonias are other shrubs that come into flower in November, although we’ll probably have to wait until January for the heavily-scented daphnes to outmanoeuvre the opposition.

We had our first frost just a couple of weekends ago and fortunately I’d brought my last few tender plants inside the night before: the tuberous begonias had been lifted, wrapped in newspaper and put to hibernate in the shed, fuchsias are undercover in the cold frame, but the South American tibouchina and rose geraniums have to take shelter in the conservatory over winter. My rose geranium is “Attar of Roses”, a pelargonium really, with beautiful pale pink flowers and deliciously scented, crinkled, silvery-green leaves. It will survive quite happily in the conservatory, but it often spreads to cover a wide area over the summer, so I like to trim it back when bringing it inside. You can then prune it even more ruthlessly in the spring, using any promising cuttings to start off new plants, and allowing the parent plant to reshoot.

Rose geranium Attar of Roses

This year, I decided that I would put those leaf offcuts to good use and experimented with Rose Geranium Cordial on Sarah Raven’s recommendation. What a revelation: delightfully light and fragrant – an autumn variation on the elderflower cordial theme and equally good with sparkling water. I suspect it would also be delicious with Prosecco for a very unusual cocktail with a twist! This is based on Sarah’s recipe – do try it and see!

Rose Geranium and Lemon Cordial – makes 2.5 litres

Rose geranium cordial

2kg granulated sugar

1 litre water

large handful of rose-scented geranium leaves

juice of 6 lemons

finely grated zest of 2 lemons

30g citric acid

Heat the sugar, water, lemon juice and zest, plus the geranium leaves until the sugar has dissolved, then simmer for 10-15 minutes. Allow to cool and infuse. Strain through a sieve lined with muslin to remove the geranium leaves and add the citric acid. (You can omit it, but I’ve found with other cordials that they really don’t keep long at all without the preserving effects of the citric acid.) Pour through a funnel into sterilised bottles. Keep in the fridge once open.

Dilute to taste with sparkling water or soda.

Another good use of rose geranium leaves is to make scented Rose Geranium Sugar, along the lines of vanilla sugar, for sprinkling on biscuits and lemon drizzle cake to add an extra dimension. I just layer up caster sugar in a pretty glass Kilner jar, adding a few rose geranium leaves every so often. The only thing to watch here is that the moisture in the leaves can make the sugar stick together, so be prepared to crush it with a spoon when you come to use it!

My final idea for making the most of this heavenly resource is to make rose geranium shortbread biscuits – beautiful and unusual served with mousses or ice cream, or delicious with morning coffee or afternoon tea.

Rose Geranium Shortbread Biscuits

Rose geranium biscuits

125g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling (or use rose geranium sugar if you have it!)

225g butter, softened

300g plain flour, plus extra for dusting

50g ground rice (or rice flour or semolina work just as well)

3-4 rose geranium leaves, very finely chopped

Zest of 1 lime (or lemon)

Line two baking trays with baking parchment. Cream the sugar and butter together in a large bowl. Sift the flour and ground rice (or rice flour/semolina) into the mixture, add the finely chopped rose geranium leaves and lime zest and mix together. Using floured hands, work the mixture together to form a smooth dough. Tip onto a lightly floured work surface and knead gently until the dough is smooth. Chill in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Roll the dough out until 5mm thick and cut out biscuits using a round or heart-shaped cutter. Place the biscuits onto the baking trays, and sprinkle with a little extra rose geranium sugar. Leave to chill for a further 30 minutes in the fridge. Bake at 160°C/Gas 4 for 15-20 minutes, or until pale golden-brown. Cool on a rack, sprinkling with extra sugar if necessary.