lundi 13 décembre 2010

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire

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When I was a little girl I found it hard to go to sleep on Christmas Eve. A plate was put outside my room with a freshly baked mince pie and small glass of brandy for Santa and a carrot for Rudolph, alongside the pillowslips I left to be filled with my presents (I never got into the tradition of stockings for some unknown reason). One night I woke up to find that Santa had already been, leaving a charming note thanking me for the refreshments and a sackful of goodies. Amazingly I managed to resist the temptation to open everything and just settled for one present before going back to sleep. Today the presents lie around the little wooden tree in the living room that we always get down from the loft. For many years, we settled for an ugly tinsel covered one until I picked up the little one a few years back in a place in Nottingham where I used to go for toasted baguette with walnuts and goats' cheese before it got too pricy and finally closed down. Yet the exhileration of waking up on Christmas Day has never left me and I slip my dressing gown and slippers on before bounding downstairs in my impatience to let the gift sharing commence. There are always certain things to be done first though; most importantly the cats to be fed, the living room fire to be lit, the lunch preparations to see to and waiting for my Father to finally come downstairs because it would be unfair to open anything without him. When she was still alive, my grandmother joined us for Christmas lunch before retiring in the living room where the fire was on full to watch the Queen's speech. In true anti-monarchist spirit, I retreated to a room upstairs to watch Top of the Pops featuring all the hit singles from the past 12 months, popping down reluctantly in between to check on my grandmother while my parents were out on one of their long winter walks. When they returned, there would be turkey sandwiches (plus all that week as well!) with an enormous piece of blue stilton to be divided between us and warm mince pies with whipped double cream. On Boxing Day, my brothers were always dropped off, bringing with them a second wave of presents. My heart was always full of nervous anticipation before they arrived and I sat by the window wth dripping wet hair, waiting for the sound of a car pulling up. They would sleep in the room that is now mine on two metal framed beds, one of which sloped down at the end, munching through boxes of Quality Street or Roses chocolates and perhaps watching a cricket video which my brother had given my Dad because he wanted it himself. Things are much quieter these days but I truly enjoy the hours by the fire, engrossed in our new books, the walks out into the winter air which stings your cheeks and reminds you that you're alive when everyone else is inside celebrating or snoozing after a large meal, coming back to hot tea and trifle, scrabble battles, reading aloud to each other from our favourite texts before drawing the curtains on the icy night outside and settling down with a film. I'm already so excited about this special time to come.

In the days immediately after my return from Derbyshire, Berlin seemed cold and desolate for the first time since I've lived here. Perhaps it was simply because of frozen pipes which left me with a cold flat for nearly a week, or the frustration at the transport system paralysed by snow or just a case of post holiday blues. I threw myself into baking sessions which heated the kitchen and filled everywhere with the smell of spices and melted chocolate and had film marathons with screwball comedies. Things picked up again as the thaw came and I realised once more how much the city means to be, even when the temperature is well below zero. Last Friday I walked in the silence of the Bürgerpark, a place that is filled with memories. I remember going there on New Year's Day of 2008 with just the lightest dusting of snowflakes on the ground as the children made the most of it with snowmen and sledgerides down the little hill. I drank mulled wine while a cruel wind blew icy circles around me and last October enjoyed the final sunrays of an Indian summer, reading my book in the rose garden. Today the benches are thick with snow and the roses have been pruned for warmer times yet I felt no nostagia for those sun filled days in the winter wonderland around me.

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Caught in a snowstorm on my way back from work

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Icicles outside my window last week

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Later on that evening, I joined Chrissi and a couple of other girlfriends for the Lucia Market the the Kulturbrauerei in Prenzlauer Berg. Even thouh it was more crowded that last year, I still found it charming and authentic in a way that some other ones are not and in spite of the freezing night, a glass of mulled wine and some Kartoffelpuffer with apple sauce lifted my spirits as we wandered from stall to stall. I even bought myself a charming little lantern which lights up my kitchen window next to the little poinsettia (see below) in its red pot covered in glitter.

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Some photos from our lovely evening out at the market

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To finish, a bumper set of recipes to get you into the Christmas spirit if you're not already there yet and to enjoy with others.

Moominmamma's Cold Comfort

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Last Thursday I made another trip to Iittala and was lucky enough to grab this last Moomin limited edition winter mug. I took this as a sign to make another recipe from their wonderful cookbook and I spotted one called cold comfort which seemed appropriate since I'm so enjoying Stella Gibbon's Cold Comfort Farm. It's a strong Scandinavian drink, designed to be enjoyed in small quantities to revive you even on the coldest of days.


650g blackcurrants
240g granulated sugar
1 piece fresh ginger
1 cinnamon stick
600ml water
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp cardomom seeds

Measure all the ingredients into a saucepan and place over a gentle heat for about half an hour. Strain and serve while hot.

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Lemon crumble biscuits

Loukoum made these using Jane Pettigrew's recipe from her book Tea time. They're amazingly simple and so delicious. The only thing I did was to addd little lemon juice since my dough turned out a little dry. Thanks Loukoum!

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For around 50 biscuits

450g flour
200g butter
350g fine sugar
4 egg yolks
the zest of 4 unsprayed lemons, finely grated
2-3 tbsp lemon juice

1. Mix the flour and butter until you have a crumbly mixture. Add the sugar, egg yolks, lemon zest and enough lemon juice to mix the dough enough until it forms a ball. Divide it into two parts, wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
2. Pre-heat the oven to 170°C. Remove the dough from of the fridge and take a small walnut sized piece, roll it in between your hands so you have a smooth, round shape. Place on a baking sheet lined with piece of greaseproof paper, leaving a little space between them and press the tops of the biscuits gently with the back of a fork.
3. Bake for 12-15 minutes; the bicuits should just be a little golden. Leave to cool on the baking sheet before transferring them to a wire rack.

Spekulatius biscuits - no Christmas would be complete without them

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Ingredients (makes about 65)

250g soft butter
250g butter
2 eggs
500g flour
1 tsp baking powder
250g ground almonds
1 sachet spekulatius spice mixture or you can make your own combining cinnamon, aniseed, coriander, ground cloves and cardamom

1. Mix the butter, eggs and sugar until creamy. Sift in the flour along with baking powder and spice mixture and blend together. Finish with the ground almonds and knead the dough with your hands until smooth. Wrap in clingfilm and leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.
2. Roll the pastry out until it's roughly 3mm thick and cut out shapes with the cutters of your choice. I mixed the Christmassy ones my Mum gave me last Christmas with the Ikea animal ones. Place your shapes on a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper and leave them to rest for another 15 minutes before popping them into a hot oven at 180°C for around 8-10 minutes.

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Snow topped spice cake from Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess

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I made this cake for the first time yesterday as an easier and fruit free alternative to the traditional British Christmas cake. Apologies for the somewhat dark photos but between last night and this morning, good light was rare. I'm hoping it goes down well my German students tomorrow.

4 large eggs, separated, plus 2 extra large egg whites
125ml vegetable oil
125ml water
2 tbsp runny honey
200g dark muscovado sugar
75g ground almonds
150g plain flour
2 tsps baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp all-spice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
zest of 1/2 an orange
100g caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 180c.
Whisk together the yolks and oil, then add the water, honey and dark muscovado sugar. Add the almonds, flour, baking powder, bicarb, salt, spices and zest, folding in gently. In another bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form and then gradually add the caster sugar. Fold the whites into the cake mixture, and pour into a well buttered Springform tin. Cook for 45 minutes, or until the cake is springy on top and beginning to shrink away from the edges. Let the cake cool in its tin on a rack for 25 minutes before turning it out.

When it's completely cold, you can make up the icing. Beat the egg white with the lemon juice. Add the sifted icing sugar and beat on a low speed until well combined and smooth. The icing needs to be used immediately or transferred to an airtight container, as it hardens when exposed to air.

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30 commentaires:

  1. Beautiful snow shots and memories! My Christmases were a bit the same as yours (goodies for Santa, difficult to sleep on Xmas eve and preseent opening on the 25th, in the morning)....

    Lovely cookies and divine looking spice cake!



  2. This captures the markets in berlin beautifully, and it is making me so sad that I am not there but so happy to know that they do exist and one day i will be there! I am also really jealous of your Christmas Moomin mug, I am sipping yogi tea out of my Moomin mama mug right at this very minute! I have six different ones and love them so dearly, the christmas one rocks!

  3. Vanessa - do you remember that I used to read you and comment here all of the time? I got a new computer and site and my feeds disappeared. I definitely recall your gorgeous photos of Berlin Markets in the fall (too) and of park benches and snow and just beautiful things - and recipes. Do you remember me?
    Maybe not my site, but my site name?

  4. I love this post! The Berlin markets look so festive and sparkly. I have never heard of spekulatius cookies before, and am now convinced to give them a try. Lovely, heartwarming words.

  5. What is it about the holidays that always brings back memories of our childhood? Is this ever going to change? I hope not.
    As always, I love your photographs Vanessa. And I LOVE that mug. I think there's an Iittala store in the Hague. I'll go check it out.
    Oh, and I want a slice of that Nigella cake :)

  6. Sometimes, I'd like to live in a cold country.
    Tks for this beautiful and dreamy post.

  7. This was the perfect bedtime story for me last night. And those fairy tale like napkins beneath the cookies...You made me dream of Christmas treats. You really did.

  8. I find it so comforting that Christmas makes most countries feel like home.. Germany, NY or FInland... the icons are there and the warm spirit even if the drinks or cakes may vary. Lovely photos, Vanessa... I feel Christmas radiating from them all... and the snow, the beautiful clean snow!!!

  9. Your Christmas memories are lovely, Vanessa. We are so fortunate to have them, aren't we? We had so many traditions...I've kept a few, changed a few and we made our own when the kids were little. Now, when I want to change one thing or another, I meet with stubborn kids...they want the traditions.
    And wasn't Santa lucky at your house! Brandy. Now there's a tradition I should have started years ago! :)

    Your photos are exceptional today; anyone looking at them will be filled with Christmas spirit.

  10. @Rosa - It's nice that you adopted the British tradition of getting presents on 25th instead of on Christmas Eve. Did you spend holidays in Derbyshire?
    @Elizabeth - It's a pity that we never met while you were still here. I remember you posted photos of Karl August Platz which was just round the corner from where I lived and where I used to go every week. Still hopefully you'll be back some time, although I won't be in Berlin over the holidays when you return. Nice you're also a Moomin fan!
    @Valerie - Yes of course I remember both you and your lovely blog, especially that post you did from London with all that cheese. Thanks for stopping by!
    @Nicolette - I totally love spekulatius and they're so easy. Sometimes Christmas markets can be tacky and commercial but some really leave you enchanted like this one. I haven't visited as many as I wanted to because of the cold and icy streets.
    @Magda - Oh I hope to always be able to keep those memories alive, otherwise I think I'd be losing a part of myself. Your speculaas clog and cookies inspired me to try my own. Fingers crossed you find a winter Moomin mug. The cake looks quite demanding to make but it's ridiculously easy, incredibly moist and light as a feather.
    @Cuisine framboise - Actually, I can handle the cold much better than the heat and I defintely couldn't imagine Christmas in a warm climate. Thanks for leaving me a comment.
    @Tracy - It's a nice feeling to think of you reading my words just before going to sleep and then you dreaming of Christmas goodies. The napkin was one left over from my housewarming party a couple of months ago but somehow it seemed just right with those cookies.
    @Deana - It's funny how just a few ingredients and the snow can fill us with those sensations of comfort and seasonal cheer and most of all, it never fails to make my heart beat faster in the countdown to the big day. When I was growing up, we hardly ever had snow and I was always disappointed that we never got a white Christmas but this year it might finally happen.
    @Barbara - It's so nice to hear that Barbara. Even if times change, I think we all need a few traditions for the holidays. Funnily, I think I enjoy them now even more than when I was growing up.

  11. It is so nice to see a bunch of names commenting here that I recognize. Charming holiday memories beautifully written.

    I don't know which I prefer...the candied apples or the absinthe.

    Have a great day!

  12. So much goodness packed into this post, Vanessa. You've reminded me of the lovely blue stilton I ate on Sunday. You've told wonderful stories. I love that you read aloud to each other. You've showed us all of these lovely images and still, more. All of your recipes look yummy. The snow topped spice cake looks irresistible.

  13. Toute cette neige ! et les couleurs chaudes du marché de Noël donnent l'impression de sentir les effluves du vin chaud et des petits gâteaux aux épices... Profite bien des fêtes, je crois effectivement que leur magie renaît avec les années.

  14. @Lazaro - It's true that it's nice to have that special feeling of a blogging community and I really appreciate that. Hmm, I still tend towards the candied apples myself.
    @Denise - Oh thanks Denise and how nice to know you had blue stilton last week. I can't wait to tuck inot my first serving soon. Of all the recipes, the cake turned out the best and my students really loved it. They were even convinced there was alcohol inside.
    @Rose - J'ai tellement hâte de partir en vacances jeudi et j'espère que je n'aurai pas du retard ou un vol annulé. Même s'il fait froid, j'ai adoré cette ambiance hivernale au marché et je me réjouis de retourner quelques jours à Londres la semaine prochaine pour voir les décorations. Je te souhaite de très bonnes fêtes aussi. Bises.

  15. I almost felt I was spending Christmas alongside you and your family :) those were wonderful memories...
    I sympathize with you for enduring the cold. On Sunday, outside temperature was just 0 degrees and suddenly, on Monday it dropped to -24. And 12 degrees in my living room this morning. Yes, definitely, it's time to try your delicious recipes, fly home, eat a lot of cheese and pack a bit of fat to stay warm...

  16. Oh Julie, that sounds pretty brutal with the cold. Here the worst we've had is -17 but it's generally around -5 which is OK, although the wind is very strong. Just woke up to another 10cm of fresh snowflakes and more icicles outside the windows. Hope your heating is working well. I can't wait to be back in Derbyshire tomorrow and hope this snow can hold off a bit. Enjoy the baking; I never need any excuse to build up winter fat.

  17. The stories of your past Christmases is so heartwarming. Your holiday spirit is truly contagious as your recipes and pictures of such delightful cookies put me in the mood to bake.

  18. That market looks so wonderful, as do all the goodies you have been baking. That snowstorm image is such a delight, although i bet it was freezing! I adore the Moomin mug also :)

  19. oh yummy biscuits! I love Cold Comfort Farm - the film is so funny too.

  20. Merry Christmas!!
    New Year's 2011 Fireworks Celebrations Around the World

  21. @Cocina Savant - I'm looking forward to seeing what you come up with as Christmas treats on your blog. Enjoy the baking!
    @Kate - It was incredibly cold that evening and after one hour, my feet were almost numb so we had to go inside. I feel lucky with that mug and it's nice to serve something comforting in it.
    @Hila - I haven't seen the film yet but it's on my list.
    @Jupiter Family - Merry Christmas to you too.

  22. Vanessa,
    Absolutely beautiful photographs. I like the look of that deep blackcurrant drink too. Just what this girl wants on this snowy evening in Scotland. Kind wishes.

  23. Beautiful photos! Simple holiday pleasures ...

  24. beautiful words, pictures and recipes - as always. I am going to make the spice cake this week.

  25. This was a wonderful photo journey-Love the photos. It's cold!! Enjoyed the walk through your childhood memories of Christmas.

    I am glad I discovered your blog. I am a new follower.

    Merry Christmas.


  26. Quel merveilleux billet ... Quelles merveilleuses photos qui nous mettent dans l'ambiance de Noël ... Tu nous as gâtés, là !
    Passe de très belles fêtes de Noël

  27. Love all your photos of the snow--I didn't manage to get any good ones. And the Lucia Christmas Market--I really like that one (and the abundance of Scandinavian drinks).

  28. What a long post! such a lovely read though, and exactly what I needed. I am a new follower. xx

  29. ok... you have to stop mentioning the moomins, or I'll redecorate my entire house with moomin-related stuff! Also I need to get my hands on this cookbook...
    by the way, I'm so sorry about this letter! I promise to send it soon!
    merry xmas!

  30. @Mangocheeks - I think you must have had an enormous amount of snow where you are and definitely need some cold comfort. Take care.
    @Maria - Thanks and happy holidays to you.
    @Rachel - I wonder if you're spending Christmas in Rome or London and if you also have snow in Rome. Have a wonderful time wherever you are.
    Velva - Thanks so much for your kind message and happy Christmas and New Year to you too!
    Helene - Mais tu nous gates toujours! Je me demande s'il neige a Cannes. En tout cas, je suis sure que tu vas preparer des plats magnifiques et je te souhaite de tres joyeuses fetes aussi. Bises.
    Christine - Now the snow has been in Berlin for so long so I'm sure you've got some good pics. I read that there's up to 30cm - incredible although I hope it doesn't stay till March this year. Happy holidays!
    Mckenzie - Oh that's so nice to hear. I hope you're enjoying the festivities.
    @Pia - It's true that all this Moomin stuff is a bit of an obsession. Don't worry about the letter - there are so many I also need to write and I'm way behind. Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year!