Friday, 3 December 2010
The Christmas Bake Shop . . .
Well, here we are the end of the first week of December and my mind is naturally turned to all things Christmas. When I was a child,the weeks and days before Christmas were filled with the spicy smells and tantalizing odours of my mother busy in the kitchen baking up all sorts of treats for the Christmas Season.
One thing that she made us each year was her Date Squares. Her mother's recipe they had beautiful layers of buttery crumbly Oats with deliciously sweet and sticky dates in the middle. These were a firm family favourite which we were never treated to any other time of the year. She would also make rich and buttery Scotch Shortbread cookies . . . each one decorated with slivers of candied red and green cherries.
At Christmas we could always rely on her baking a War Cake. This was a cake that was developed during WW2 and it didn't use much in the way of flour, eggs or sugar. We loved it because it was full of fat sticky seedled raisins. I haven't seen a big fat raisin like the ones she used in years . . .
The piece de resistance was always her Feather Squares. With a delicous buttery cake like bottom, layered with sweet raspberry jam and a coconut meringue topping, these tasty delites were always my very favourite thing. They weren't good keepers because of the meringue though . . . so you had to eat them up within the first day or so! Yumm! NOT a problem!! I loved the way the jam seeped into the cake after the first day and made what was already good, fabulous!
There would be ginger cookies and mince pies and fruitcakes, both light and dark. Christmas was the one time of year that the house was filled with an abundance of goodies and treats for us all to enjoy!
I carried on the baking tradition after I got married and had a family of my own. Along about mid November, and the beginning of December, my kitchen would be a flurry of activity and smells as I spent hours preparing Christmas Delights for my family and friends. I always liked to make up a baking tray of delicious goodies as gifts for friends. Money was short and these were always welcome. I made the same things as my mother had baked for us as children, and a few extra besides.
Women's magazines at that time of year always contained a small Robin Hood baking leaflet introducing new products and recipes for Christmas baking, and I always liked to try something new each year. Firm favorites were always my Dutch Almond Cookies. These had a spicy almond batter filled with a delicious almond filling, which was a delightful surprise when you bit into them. I also used to make these apricot squares that were lovely and buttery . . . crumbly and full of delicious pieces of dried apricots. Then again . . . how could I forget the 7 layer bars, with the layers of crushed graham wafers and butter, coconut, chocolate chips, walnuts and sweetened condensed milk?
My friend Leona introduced me to Peanut Butter Balls and so I made those every year as well. Lovely little bite sized balls of peanut butter, rice crispies cereal, walnuts and sugar, dipped in melted chocolate. My sister introduced me to Mexican Wedding Cookies, buttery and nutty little bits of tender goodness, covered in layers and layers of powder sugar, that absolutely melted in your mouth. I also liked to make my whipped shortbread cookies . . . just as tasty as the rolled ones but alot easier to manage because there was no rolling out. Half with work with double the satisfaction.
Sugar cookies, gingerbreadmen, pecan tassies, egg nog logs, butterscotch bars . . . oh the treasures and delights my nimble fingers produced . . . the smells, the hustle and bustle . . . I miss those days. There is just Todd and I now, and we could never begin to touch a portion of all those tasty treats in a million years, so I don't do much Christmas baking anymore. Besides my ever widening girth doesn't really need it all! We live too far away from family.
Oh how I would enjoy putting together some treats for my grandsons . . . although in truth, they live too far away and I doubt the customs people would allow them in to the country . . . I am planning on making up a few trays of goodies for gifts though, and I'm not going to say here who's going to get them either! (Don't want to spoil the surprise) So over the next few weeks, I am going to do a bit of baking and I am really looking forward to it. with any luck I'll get a few pictures taken to share and obviously there'll be a few recipes to share as well. Maybe I'll inspire a few to don aprons and do a bit of Christmas Baking of their own . . . I like that thought!!
Here's a little tidbit to help get you started.
*Leona's Peanut Butter Balls*
A holiday tradition in my home for the past 30 years! Where I come from you won’t find too many houses without a plate of these on offer at Christmas time! Easy and quick to make, and delicious too!!
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup icing sugar
½ cup chopped nuts (I prefer walnuts)
½ cup rice crispies cereal
4 ounces semi sweet chocolate
1 TBS butter
Cream together the peanut butter and icing sugar. Stir in the nuts and cereal. Shape into small balls and chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
Melt together the chocolate and butter, mixing until smooth. Dip the chilled balls into the chocolate and set aside on a parchment paper lined plate. Set in the fridge to harden. These also freeze really well so they are an excellent make ahead!!
Cooking in The English Kitchen today a deliciously warming Curried Parsnip and Apple Soup!