Christmas Cookies

MerryChristina here, relaxing with a cookie and a glass of milk after all the seasonal festivities. The day after Boxing Day always feels like a chilling kind of day, when you can just sit down and take it easy. And what better way than with a cookie and some milk/tea/coffee (whatever is your preference)?

AsaI’m sure that many of you bake special treats for Christmas and in our house that’s gingerbread. Or more specifically, Swedish pepparkakor, which are less spicy than their UK counterparts. Every family has their own recipe handed down through the generations, and in my case it’s very special because my great-grandfather owned a bakery. So the cookies I make each year are the same ones he would have sold from 1901 onwards – I love that I’m carrying on that tradition!

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Regency Twelfth Cake!

Twelfth-Cake-with-feathersNicola here. It’s Twelfth Night today, marking the end of the Christmas festivities (assuming that you count the twelve days from Christmas Day. Some traditions start counting on 26th December meaning you can keep partying until the 6th!)

There are a number of different ways in which Twelfth Night has been celebrated through the centuries. In the Georgian period they were keen on baking a special cake to mark the occasion. The Historic Food website has some fascinating information on this.

The earliest printed recipe for an English Twelfth Cake appears to date from 1803 and was Queen for the nightrecorded by John Mollard in his cookery book of that date. Originally the Twelfth Cake contained a pea and a bean and whoever found these in their slice were elected as King and Queen of the Twelfth Night festivities. In the early Victorian period, this tradition developed into “Twelfth Night Cards.” All the guests at the party would be invited to choose a card from a special pack illustrating the different “characters” of Twelfth Night. Along with the King and Queen these might include Sir Bob Bergamot the fop, Fanny Farcical the actress, Priscilla Passion… Well, you can imagine her profession! You then had to act in character for whichever card you had picked until midnight. Allegedly, Queen Victoria eventually banned the Twelfth Night parties for fear they were getting out of hand!

Partying may be banned at present as well but at least we can still eat cake. So if you fancy baking up a slice of Twelfth Cake, the original 1803 recipe is below:

Twelthnight-cakeTake seven pounds of flour, make a cavity in the centre, set a sponge with a gill and a half of yeast and a little warm milk; then put round it one pound of fresh butter broke into small lumps, one pound and a quarter of sifted sugar, four pounds and a half of currants washed and picked, half an ounce of sifted cinnamon, a quarter of an ounce of pounded cloves, mace, and nutmeg mixed, sliced candied orange or lemon peel and citron. When the sponge is risen, mix all the ingredients together with a little warm milk; let the hoops be well papered and buttered, then fill them with the mixture and bake them, and when nearly cold ice them over with sugar prepared for that purpose as per receipt; or they may be plain.

From John Mollard, The Art of Cookery. (London 1803).

There is a more modern recipe on the National Trust website.

Alternatively, you may prefer a different sort of Twelfth Night feast? What would your choice of special sweet or savoury treat be to celebrate the last night of Christmas?

Time for Cake!

CakeChristina here. A friend of mine has her birthday today – happy birthday! – so naturally my thoughts turned to cake! Well, the two usually go together, don’t they? Birthdays are a great excuse for baking (and eating) cake and it wouldn’t be a special day without such a culinary treat, at least not to me. Cake can also cheer us up in these uncertain times, so why not indulge ourselves a litte? It made me wonder though – who first hit on the idea of making cake? Time to dive down a research rabbit hole …

1024px-Strucla_sweet_bread02

Attribution https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=128566

I don’t think anyone really knows where cake baking originated, but the first ones were probably more like bread sweetened with honey. Rather than putting the honey on top of the bread, someone decided to put it inside before baking and liked the result. I’m all for that as I confess I don’t like the taste of honey on its own. Nuts and fruit could have been added to make it sweeter (sugar came much later) as that was all they had. We know the Egyptians made special cakes for various feasts, religious ceremonies or for people to take with them to the afterlife. And then the Romans started adding eggs and butter to their bread dough, as well as honey, which gave them a cake like result. They must have brought these recipes to England when they were in control here, but then they left and the Dark Ages came … well, without cake they must have been dark indeed!

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Food, Still Glorious Food!

Cat 243 Doverby Mary Jo

I've been crazily pulling together collections of my Christmas novellas, including a couple that have never been digitized before, so I decided to exercise Wench Prerogative and recycle an older blog with a bit of updating. When I wrote the original of this blog, it was almost Thanksgiving, so it did seem appropriate. 

I’d been ruminating on the differences between being a good cook and a good baker, and Thanksgiving is a good time to talk about that because family feasting is in the air. 

Most of us know the basics of cooking and baking, but mastery of the two skills does represent different personality types. A cook can be more improvisational.  If you lack mushrooms for that interesting chicken dish, you can probably do without, or maybe substitute bacon bits or something quite different. 

Pumpkin pieBakers, however, can’t generally improvise as much, at least not without courting disaster.  You can add chopped walnuts to a cookie recipe and it will probably be just fine, but fail to use have the basic ingredients—flour, eggs, baking powder, et al—and use them in the right order, may give results that aren't pretty, much less edible!  So following a recipe fairly carefully is advisable for baking, especially something complicated.

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