IT’S CHRISTMAS WEEK! IT’S CHRISTMAS WEEK!
Put on your best bibs and elf shoes and ring those bells!
Now that I’m done with shopping, wrapping, mailing and decorating, I can finally “relax” and concentrate on my favorite part of the holidays — food! Needless to say, the Alphabet Soup furry kitchen helpers are beside themselves with excitement. This year, we decided to try a couple of new recipes to keep things interesting, and we picked up a few treats from the British Pantry in anticipation of “Downton Abbey” starting up again on January 3. Mrs. Patmore, here we come!
To me, there’s nothing more British than mince pies at Christmastime. The only person in my family to ever bake mince pies was Auntie Ella, and she made the full size pies that are common in America, rather than the individual serving tart-size ones that you see in the UK. Mince pie also appeared on the Thanksgiving table in New Hampshire; when Len’s parents were still alive, mince and apple pies were served more often than pumpkin.
Those little mince pies are just too cute — couldn’t resist buying a couple of boxes from the BP, Walker’s Spiced Orange and Cranberry, and Mr. Kipling’s. Of course they’re perfect with a cup of tea, so we stocked up on some Downton Abbey Holiday Cheer and Christmas teas.
Also treated ourselves to a tin of Quality Street confections. These yummy chocolate covered toffees were made by Mackintosh in Halifax, West Yorkshire, before Nestlé acquired Rowntree-Mackintosh in 1988. Happy to see that the Quality Street sweets are still packaged in the familiar pink/magenta boxes and tins, something I first saw when I lived in England, and which I’ll always associate with traditional British holidays.
Of course Christmas is cookie time, and in the past I’ve gone mad over raspberry thumbprints, spritz, coconut ice box cookies, butter wreaths, neopolitan cookies, and gingerbread teddies. For the last two years cranberry orange shortbread kept calling my name whenever I browsed Pinterest, so I finally made a batch. I actually like cookie recipes that require chilling before baking, because I can make the batter one day and bake it the next. These turned out nice and buttery, but next time I’m adding a tad more sugar. I do love the combination of cranberries and orange — I usually make cranberry orange walnut muffins for Christmas breakfast. Yum!
Are you looking for an easy, easy last minute treat to serve your guests, or to take as a hostess gift, or maybe you need a homemade gift for a nice neighbor or co-worker? I have three words for you: English Chocolate Crisps! The other week Ina Garten made these on The Chew. She first had them at Melt, a chocolate shop in London, and she’s included the recipe in her cookbook Make It Ahead (Clarkson Potter, 2014). It only calls for 4 ingredients: chocolate, cornflakes, dried cranberries, and crystallized ginger, and there’s no baking(!) or refrigeration required.
The key is good quality chocolate — the suggested combination of semi-sweet and bittersweet chocolate is perfect. The written recipe on The Chew’s website lists milk chocolate, but on the show Ina specifically mentioned semi-sweet, so that’s what I used. You just melt the chocolate in the microwave, 30 seconds at a time + stirring, then pour the chocolate over the cornflakes. Finally, just fold in the dried cranberries and ginger, spoon the mixture into 8 mounds on a parchment-lined baking sheet, then let it set for about an hour. Sooooo good and not overly sweet — just very chocolaty!! Watch the video to see just how easy this is to make. 🙂
Naturally Mr. Cornelius was front and center as chief taste-tester for everything. He invited a few friends and noshed on cookies, candy, hot chocolate and tea all afternoon. Actually, he’s been partying for the last two weeks and plans to continue through New Year’s. Though he loves decorating his own Christmas tree, he’d much rather play with the ornaments than hang them. Fine with us, as he’s been a good kitchen helper all year long and is bound to be on Santa’s Nice List.
Besides baking, eating, decorating, eating, cooking, eating, singing carols, and eating, are there any other special holiday traditions you look forward to every year? As I’ve mentioned before, Len and I always watch “A Christmas Memory” (Geraldine Page black-and-white version) on Christmas Eve and I like to take out my Beth Peck illustrated version of the story and read it aloud.
I also enjoy watching classic movies like “White Christmas,” “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “Little Women,” “The Polar Express,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” and “A Christmas Carol.” Of course I must get my Colin Firth fix with “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and “Love Actually.” And I’m always up for another viewing of “Eloise at Christmastime.” Gotta keep my live-someday-in-the-Plaza Hotel dream alive. 🙂
“A Christmas Memory” (1966) is available in its entirety on YouTube in six parts. Here’s Part 3, where Buddy and his friend are making the famous fruitcakes. What would Christmas be without watching them in that cozy fire-lit kitchen hand-shelling windfall pecans and mixing bowls and bowls of batter without the benefit of a KitchenAid? Contrary to popular opinion, I actually like fruitcake, especially when it’s the “white version” made with lots of butter.
The proposal scene is my favorite favorite part of “Love Actually.” Perhaps I should become a Portuguese waitress? Colin’s character is named Jamie. Gee, that’s pretty close to Jama. Jamie and Jama — nice ring to it, don’t you think? 🙂
CRANBERRY ORANGE SHORTBREAD COOKIES
(makes 4 dozen)
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 cup + 4 tablespoons powdered sugar
- 3 teaspoons vanilla
- 2 tablespoons grated orange zest
- 1/2 cup fresh cranberries, chopped well (dried cranberries may also be used)
- 2 cups flour
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 pinches of salt
In a stand mixer, cream the butter well until smooth and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar slowly until incorporated. Add the vanilla, orange zest and salt and mix well. Add the flour and baking powder slowly until well incorporated. Slowly add the fresh cranberries and mix quickly.
Form dough into 2 logs, about 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap in parchment or plastic wrap and chill at least an hour or overnight. When you are ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove plastic wrap and slice logs into 1/2-inch rounds and place about 1 inch apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake until pale golden brown, about 12 minutes.* Cool and store in an airtight container.
*on my insulated baking sheets, these required 15 minutes
INA GARTEN’S ENGLISH CHOCOLATE CRISPS
- 7-1/4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
- 5-1/2 oz. bittersweet chocolate
- 3 cups cornflakes
- 1/3 cup dried cranberries
- 1/3 cup crystallized ginger (cut into same size as the cranberries)
1. Chop the two chocolates and place 3/4 of them in a heat-proof bowl. Place the bowl in a microwave on high heat for 30 seconds, remove the bowl, and stir the chocolates vigorously with a wooden spoon. Continue heating and stirring the chocolates in 30-second intervals, switching to 15-second intervals as the chocolates start to melt, continuing to stir vigorously with a wooden spoon in between each heating. Heat only until the chocolates are just melted. Add the remaining quarter of chocolates and stir vigorously until melted and smooth (if the chocolate isn’t completely melted, microwave it for another 5 or 10 seconds).
2. Place the cornflakes in a medium bowl, pour the chocolate mixture over the cornflakes, and immediately fold them together with a rubber spatula, being careful not to break up the cornflakes. You’ll want to work quickly so the chocolate doesn’t harden. Fold in the cranberries and ginger.
3. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Working with 2 soup spoons, spoon 8 mounds of chocolate crisps onto the paper. Set aside at room temperature to cool completely until hardened. Peel the crisps off the paper and serve.
Sigh. I can’t believe it’s another Christmas, another year coming to a close. I’ll be taking a blog break until early January, when we’ll resume our usual tea-taking and nonsense making. Thank you so much for reading and supporting Alphabet Soup this past year. It’s been a distinct pleasure having you at our table to share a mutual love of reading and eating. Hope Santa is good to you and that you have an especially fun and delicious Christmas.
🎄 MERRY MERRY! 🎅
🍪 PEACE, LOVE, JOY AND COOKIES! 🍪
from Jama, Mr. Cornelius, Eloise, and 50-something Paddingtons
I leave you with my mom’s favorite Christmas carol as performed by The 3 Tenors:
Copyright © 2015 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.