26 December 2007
Christmas Culinary Adventures
Around holiday time each year, I fantasize that I'll re-create the first Thanksgiving dinner and make my family come dressed in character. Each year, I have to give up that dream, knowing I'd be laughed out of town. Then I start thinking about how I'd like to prepare a traditional Christmas dinner like the one the Cratchit family shared in A Christmas Carol. Just what is figgy pudding, I've wondered, and why is it so celebrated?
Well, a few days ago, NPR ran a story which seemed to be directed precisely at me: It was all about figgy pudding. It didn't sound complicated at all, and with ingredients similar to a fruitcake, how could it be bad? So I borrowed my mom's bundt cake pan and purchased all of the ingredients without telling anyone what I planned to make. The only part I was concerned about was lighting the figs and raisins as they simmered in brandy (remember, I'm not that handy). For safety reasons, I summoned Spouse to the kitchen.
"You're making WHAT?"
In reality, the figgy pudding was very fun and simple (even festive!) to make. The instructions were clear, and even spouse enjoyed flaming the brandy. Figgy pudding is not what Americans would think of as a pudding: It is actually a fruit-studded spice cake, prepared by steaming it in a bath of boiling water. I had never done anything like this before, yet I was delighted with how well the process worked. And while Spouse and Daughter would have no part of it, I served my beloved figgy pudding to my parents and my in-laws, and they all loved it.
In addition to the figgy pudding, I also tried another new recipe: cinnamon spritz. This recipe (from Martha Stewart Living, December, 2007) called for scraping the seeds from a whole vanilla bean, something I'd never tried. Again, the recipe was simple to follow and the cookies turned out extremely well. Following the spritz, I made a batch of my favorite gingerbread cookies. The best part about gingerbread cookies (other than the taste, of course) is the wonderful smell that permeates the house as they bake.
All told, my Christmas baking (all done in one evening) went surprisingly well this year...that is, until my dipped pretzels stuck like glue to their drying plates and had to be chiseled off and my peppermint bark nearly overflowed its tray. I managed to mangle two simple recipes which could easily be made by young children.
But my figgy pudding worked, and I think that it is a sign that I need to make it again next Christmas. Spouse has a full year to prepare for his role as Bob Cratchit.