Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow . . .
I have a fondness for the old classics when it comes to Christmas songs. As soon as I hear Andy Williams and Dean Martin on the radio it starts to feel like Christmas. And we need all the help we can get down here in New Zealand to bring on that festive cheer. With our seasons being the opposite to that in the Northern Hemisphere Christmas falls in early summer. That means no snow, no warming fires, no hats and gloves or chestnuts roasting.
Many Kiwis head to the beach at Christmastime and you may well be thinking how cool that sounds. And yes, I suppose we are lucky but still, to me, the beach just doesn’t say Christmas.
It’s a strange attitude for a New Zealander to have seeing as I’ve grown up with summer Christmases. But for some reason a small part of me has always felt that it’s not quite right. I remember shopping with my mother as a child when she would be choosing her Christmas cards. I would point to the winter wonderlands and ask: “How come we don’t get snow at Christmas, Mum?”
Of course, I eventually got to experience a winter Christmas, several times in fact, while living in London. I absolutely loved it but alas it failed to snow on any of the Christmases I spent there. I do believe I may have experienced a wet Christmas, but not a white one. So it remains on my bucket list. The place I would like to go to experience this white Christmas: Quebec.
But that’s for another year. Most of the time my husband and I are at home for a family Christmas and that means I need to get creative when it comes to generating a bit of festive cheer during the lead-up. This year I chose to do so with a dear friend.
Svea hails from Germany and every December her home is transformed as the tree goes up, the decorations come out and she inhabits her kitchen for a couple of days to churn out an impressive selection of traditional German Christmas cookies. Her family and friends are the lucky recipients of her labours.
Her other specialty and one of my favourite things to have at this time of year is mulled wine. Although I can imagine how welcoming it would be to warm yourself up after coming in from the cold, my first sip of this divine drink transports me, however briefly, to that winter wonderland.
I asked Svea if she would be prepared to part with her recipe and she generously agreed. We decided that the mulled wine would go down very nicely with some of those delicious German cookies and so made a plan.
When I arrived at Svea’s house, all ready for a bit of mixing, kneading and rolling, I was greeted with my Christmas gift – a beautifully wrapped package with the ingredients I needed for the mulled wine along with that all-important recipe. What do you think? Definitely a friend worth holding onto.
We had a fabulous afternoon and I was put in charge of my favourite cookies from last year, which I wanted to serve with the mulled wine. Svea has also allowed me to share this special recipe.
So here goes. If you want to boost that festive cheer look no further.
(Traditional German Christmas Ginger Butter Cookies)
300g plain white flour
1 egg or 2 egg yolks
150g caster sugar
200g unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
150g finely chopped candied ginger (best to do this in a food processor as the ginger flavour is more pronounced the finer it is)
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
Put the candied ginger into the bowl of a food processor and process until finely chopped.
In a large bowl place the egg (or egg yolks), flour, spices, sugar and butter. Finally add the processed ginger. Rub together with your hands and knead until you form a smooth dough and everything is combined.
Flatten out into a disc, wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge for an hour. The pastry should be firm and cold when it comes out of the fridge.
Flour the bench and roll out the dough until it’s ½cm thick. Using a cookie cutter in the shape of your choice cut out the cookies and place on an oven tray lined with baking paper.
Once all the cookies have been cut and placed on the tray, if the dough is quite soft put the tray in the fridge for another 10-15 minutes before transferring to the oven and baking for 15 minutes at 160 degrees Celsius.
(Svea approved of my beautiful stars and happily delivered them to the oven for me)
This cooking time is a guide only as ovens vary enormously. Don’t leave the kitchen; keep a close eye on them. They are cooked once golden at the edges. If you take them out too early and find they’re still soft you can put them back into the oven for another five minutes.
Cool once out of the oven and then keep in an airtight container. They will last for weeks.
These are best made a couple of weeks before Christmas and then left to sit in an airtight container as it allows for the spices to draw. (Hide them in a good place where no one knows they’re there!)
If you’d like to do something a bit different you can dip the end of the biscuit into some melted dark chocolate.
If you dwell in the Southern Hemisphere and it’s summertime keep the airtight container in the fridge otherwise the chocolate will melt. Or you could simply dip them in chocolate on the day you are serving them. (The problem with keeping the container in the fridge is that it may be empty by the time you come to eat them.)
Right, let’s get down to the business end of this pairing. Mulled wine is ridiculously simple to make but its deep and warming flavours make it anything but simple when you taste it. If you’re not one for strong alcoholic drinks you may want to leave out the brandy. But for those brave enough the brandy does add something special.
Svea’s Mulled Wine
1 litre red wine (I like to use a Pinot Noir)
125 ml brandy
1 orange, sliced with rind left on
1 lemon, sliced with rind left on
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon whole allspice
1 star anise flower
4-6 cinnamon quills
3 tablespoons brown sugar
Put everything into a large pot and heat gently, slowly bringing it to the boil.
As soon as it has come to the boil remove from the heat, cover with a lid and leave to steep for 10 minutes.
It’s important to stay close to the hob because you don’t want it bubbling away once it’s come to the boil. You risk burning off the alcohol, which isn’t quite the point.
Once it’s had its steeping time, strain the mulled wine through a sieve to remove the fruit and whole spices and then transfer to a serving jug. You’ll need something that can take a hot liquid.
Now how to serve this festive drink. I bought myself some gorgeous double wall Bodum glasses designed for hot drinks. Or use white mugs – the red against the white looks stunning.
Mulled wine and Christmas cookies – delicious doesn’t begin to describe the perfection of this combination. Enjoy.
And to Svea – thank you!
Originally posted on: https://traceyobrienblog.com
Published by Tracey O'Brien