Monday, November 16, 2009
Preparing for the festive season
Christmas-time is my baking highlight of the year. I stress the word "baking" because savoury dishes such as turkey and ham don't really come into the equation, although I do enjoy planning the main meal as well. I love baking Christmas treats: gingerbread, panforte, panettone, lebkuchen, shortbread, mince tarts, Christmas cake ... the list is long.
It's time to load up my shopping trolley with bags of dried and glace fruit, different types of nuts, spices such as ginger, cinnamon and mixed spice, and plenty of flour, sugar, butter and eggs. The kitchen fills with the heady, mouth-watering aroma of cakes and biscuits as they cook - a spicy smell that I always associate with Christmas and its delicious traditional dishes.
There are many cliches associated with Christmas and it can be a difficult time of year for people who feel forced to try and live up to the ideal of "festive cheer". But I'm fortunate in that Christmas was always a fun and social time of the year for my family. With relatives spread around the state, it was a good chance for everyone to get together and indulge themselves with good food.
The Christmassy treats that we served up for morning and afternoon tea were just as much a part of our celebrations as the turkey, ham and plum pudding. Everyone had a specialty and we eagerly looked forward to the chance to savour delicacies only available at that time of year.
I love learning about the different traditional dishes and adding them to my repertoire. To my Anglo traditions of shortbread and mince tarts, made to my grandmother's recipes, I've added a decadent chocolate panforte and my auntie's lebkuchen biscuits. Other dishes I've tried included buche de Noel (France), stollen (Germany) and panpepato (Italy).
But each year the list grows longer, as I find more books and recipes to add to the pile. Murdoch Books has recently released Cooking for Christmas, a sumptuously photographed book that has recipes for soups, entrees such as potted prawns, main dishes with all the trimmings, puddings and edible gifts. I'm trying to resist buying another cookbook but there are some excellent recipes in there...
I have the delicious magazine Christmas special from last year, to which I've added a Women's Weekly version that I bought last week. I'm eagerly awaiting the December issues of delicious, Gourmet Traveller and Donna Hay Magazine to find out what goodies are on offer this year, and I've been busily combing through past issues of Donna Hay Magazine to gain inspiration.
What dishes will make it onto my baking list this year? Chocolate and Grand Marnier buche de Noel from Gourmet Traveller? Stefano de Pieri's panettone? Gourmet Traveller's recipe for panpepato? Or old favourites, such as my chocolate panforte or a panforte that matches perfectly with Rutherglen muscat? It's time to write out the shopping list and fire up the oven ...