Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Recipes – Oranges And Lemons For Really Great Homemade Biscuits

Friday, January 8th, 2010

While snowed in in the cold countryside of Northumberland, we enjoyed some warming chai as well as delicious mulled wine using our organic Fairtrade mulling wine spices.  I also concocted a couple of citrus based biscuits, with one of them coming from the Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall’s great cook book for Granny’s.

Snow covered Northumberland - New Year's Day 2010

Snow covered Northumberland - New Year's Day 2010

Here they are:

Classic lemon biscuits

Carefully measure out your biscuit ingredients

Carefully measure out your biscuit ingredients

75g/ 3oz softened butter
75g/ 3oz Fairtrade caster sugar
150g/ 6oz Sunflours plain flour
¼ tsp sea salt
Grated peel from 1 unwaxed lemon
1 egg yolk from a free range hen
Some cold water (this may be needed)
1 tbsp Fairtrade icing sugar

Pre-heat the oven to  165oC/ 330oF and lightly oil 2 – 3 baking trays.

Cream butter and sugar together, then add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl and stir together with a wooden spoon.  It will be slightly crumbly, but with a bit of kneading and perhaps a teaspoon or two of cold water, you will get a light paste.

Rolling out the biscuit pastry

Rolling out the biscuit pastry

Lightly flour a surface and roll out to about ½ cm thick and cut into shapes.  We used all sorts of shapes including using some oval shapes from my great grandmother.

Cutting out Christmassy biscuit shapes

Cutting out Christmassy biscuit shapes

Put the shapes on the baking trays and bake for 7 – 10 minutes, but watch them carefully as they will suddenly be cooked.  We used an Aga and found that the back of the tray cooked very quickly and some got burnt the first time around.

Remove from oven when just turning golden, then leave to cool a bit before carefully transferring to a wire cooking rack.  Sprinkle with icing sugar in a tea strainer.

Snowy lemon biscuits

Snowy lemon biscuits

Orange biscuits

Grating an orange

Grating an orange

115g/ 4oz  sliced almonds
115g/ 4oz Fairtrade caster sugar
85g/ 3oz softened butter
55g/ 2oz self-raising flour
Grated peel and juice from 2 oranges (you may only need 1½ of these)

Pre-heat the oven to 165oC/ 330oF and lightly oil 2 – 3 baking trays.

Mix all the ingredients together except the orange juice.  Now add juice from 1½ oranges and stir together.  Check the consistency which should be like a sticky batter.

Drop a teaspoon dollop onto the baking trays and set them apart as they will spread out very thinly.

Cook for 7 – 10 minutes and remove when just turning golden brown at the edges. Then leave to cool a bit before carefully transferring to a wire cooking rack.

Orange jumbles

Orange jumbles

The lemon biscuits are classic firm biscuits like a harder shortbread, while the orange biscuits are wonderfully chewy and moreish.  All-in-all they lasted about 20 minutes.

The Three Wise Men Give Gold, Frankincense And Myrrh

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

We went to the pantomine at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle last weekend, and as usual it was fantastic with good songs, amazing costumes and some great contraptions – a flying pegasus that pulled Cinderella’s coach was a highlight.  Then there were the normal slapstick scenes and great local humour, led along by Clive Webb, Danny Adams and the Dame (Chris Hayward), who as last year were a complete hoot. 

Anyway, having parked in Pilgrim Street, we made the traditional detour via the Fenwick’s Christmas display which this year was of the Nativity Story. 

It was beautiful with amazing puppetry, delightful scenes and some hidden humour, such as the wife with a rolling pin carved into the Roman sculptures of a temple in the background, as well as directions to Caesar’s Palace (as in the one in Los Angeles).  Two of the scenes included the Magi – one with King Herod and one giving their three gifts to Jesus – and it got me to thinking about these gifts. 

I apologise for the length of the next quote, which is taken from St Matthew, Chapter 2, verses 1 to 12 from an old St James’s Bible that belonged to my Great Aunt, Elfie Steenberg, and is signed by her and dated “Nov 10 1903”; however, it is the best and almost only way to introduce the concept of “gold, frankincense and myrrh“. 

So here is the story of the three wise men, which must be one of the most famous passages within the Bible and one that all Christian children and adults learn from a very early age:

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judæa in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

When Herod the king heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.  And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

And they said unto him, in Bethlehem of Judæa: for thus it is written by the prophet, and thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.  And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.  When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

The three magi giving gifts in our crib

The three magi giving gifts in our crib

And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts: gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.”

What remains interesting in this familiar Biblical passage?

The key things for me in the passage despite its familiarity are: 

(i) they are not kings but wise men or magi in spite of the Christmas carol “We three kings of Orient are” etc;
(ii) we do not know their names or where they came from save that they came from the east;
(iii) we don’t actually know how many wise men their were except that they gave three gifts and so it has always been assumed that there were three;
(iv) they gave gifts of “gold, frankincense and myrrh”.

The names of the three wise men have become in my mind “Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar” as whenever I went on holiday to Bavaria when I was young you would see chalked above the door frames of the main rooms the date and the initials “C  M  B”, so for 2010, you would see “20 C M B 10”.

When I asked what it meant, I was told that on Twelfth Night (Epiphany), which is the traditional date for the arrival of the wise men and the old date for Christmas Day, the Catholic priest would come and would bless the house with holy water and write the initials above the doors.  I read on the web that some people say that it actually means “Christus mansionem benedicat” (Christ bless this house), but that’s not what I was told nor what the people we stayed with believed.

It is also the traditional date for adding the three wise men to your crib and for taking down your Christmas decorations.

Twelfth Night is also the old date for Christmas Day and the day when the Holy thorn of Glastonbury, faithful to the old Calendar, is said to blossom exactly at midnight.  

Nowadays, it’s not much of a day, but in older times it was a festival of great importance.  In Gloucestershire, 13 fires were lit in the fields in honour of Jesus and his 12 Apostles, with the fire named for Judas stamped out immediately while the others were left to burn right down.  In Herefordshire, the wassail-bowl was taken to the cow-byre and the cattle were toasted.  Sometimes a cake with a hole in the middle was hung on the horns of an ox; if he tossed it behind him, the mistress of the house had it, if in front, it went to the bailiff or headman of the farm.

In Somerset and Devonshire, on Twelfth Night (and in some places on old Twelfth Night i.e. January 17th) the apple trees may be “wassailed” with bands of men going into the orchards at night and fire guns through the trees; cider is poured round the roots of the trees and cake or toast soaked in cider is set in the fork of the tree.  The object of this ceremony is to urge the apple trees to greater efforts in the coming year.  Sometimes, they would even be sung to:

“Here’s to thee, old apple tree,
Whence thou mayst bud, and whence thou mayst blow,
Whence thou mayst bear apples enow!
Hats full! Caps full!
Three score bushels full!
And my pockets full, too!
Huzza! Huzza! Huzza!”

For more on wassailing, follow this link.

And then there are the gifts of “gold, frankincense and myrrh”, but why these gifts and why are these gifts so important for an important “young child” who shall become “a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.”

Gold – the metal of kings

Gold still evokes the riches of kings and seems a good thing to offer the Lord Jesus.  Even in its rather more debased form of nowadays, gold still holds some allure – it’s the store of wealth that people turn to when times are bad.

Aztec Gold Xipe Totep Mask

Aztec Gold Xipe Totep Mask

But gold still looks fabulous and conjures up the wealth of ancient kingdoms.  For example, the death mask of Tutankhamun from 1325BC or the fabled gold of the Aztecs pillaged by Cortes such as this Xipe Totep Mask which is pure gold.

Gold is said to represent the divine, immortality and purity.  All of these seem sensible symbols of something that the Magi might wish to give Jesus.

Frankincense and myrrh

But what of frankincense and myrrh?  I shall come to those in separate blogs.

Christmas Eve And It’s Still Snowing

Thursday, December 24th, 2009
Let it snow

Let it snow

It’s slightly eery at work today.  No-one else is here as we have completed the stock-take and all the Christmas orders have been dispatched.  Also, the snowy weather and the fact that it’s Christmas Eve means that the business park is almost deserted.  Other than Wolseley Centers (which never closes), Nidd Transport and Masham Sausages who are busy trying to get their last Christmas deliveries out, I think I am the only person on this estate.

It started snowing again in the night and we have had at least 3 inches since about 4am and it’s still snowing away.  There’s a muffled, silencing quality to the snow which meant that as I drove in this morning – with the odd skid for excitement – I felt as if I was cocooned in my own little space, a warmed personal ecosystem stolidly driving through a wintry landscape.

As I drove into Ripon, I pondered on the fact that the elements have been reminding us of who is in control, really; we have had floods and now snow in the last 3 months, which is quite something for the temperate British climate.

We have done a pretty good job in getting all the many Internet orders out into the delivery networks, but unfortunately the weather has played havoc with some of the parts of the country.

Parcels to Aberdeen and Cumbria have been hit especially badly, as has Aylesbury.  Checking with Fedex today, no trucks have got through to Kendal since last week so a couple of parcels have got delayed but it looks as though the trucks have now got to Aberdeen and some of the parcels are now out for delivery.

All the other missing parcels with Fedex are out for delivery again today as quite a few have been delayed by weather problems, but then again they have been out for delivery 2 or 3 times this week already, but fingers crossed and many apologies to those few people who may not get their packages prior to Christmas due to the weather.

I will sign off now for a few days to enjoy a turkey Christmas dinner, my homemade Christmas pudding and some Christmas cheer.

God bless you all, Merry Christmas and I hope Santa Claus / Saint Nicholas brings you all the things that your hearts’ desires.

Recipe For Snowy White Mince Pies

Sunday, December 20th, 2009
Winter time 2009

Winter time 2009

It did not snow last night in spite of predictions, but it was so, so very cold.  The snow outside is now crunchy under foot as the top has frozen solid; as you potter along, there’s that lovely crunchy sound.  Our windows were all covered with those beautiful fern-like frost patterns as if Jack Frost himself had painted the windows with his paint brush.

A day to hunker down and enjoy some mince pies.  We made the mincemeat back in our 29 October blog, but you can use any recipe or a good shop-bought mincemeat.  If you use another recipe, Mrs Beeton’s is a classic but I find it a little too sweet for my tooth.  But I implore you to make your own pastry.

Here’s a classic recipe:

350g/ 12 oz organic plain flour (we use Sunflours flour)
75g/ 3oz lard, chopped into cubes (lard makes the pastry softer, but you could replace this with more butter)
75g/ 3oz organic butter, chopped into cubes
Pinch of sea salt
A little milk
Organic icing sugar

Making pastry: rubbing fats into flour

Making pastry: rubbing fats into flour

To make the pastry, sift the plain flour and sea salt into a mixing bowl.  Rub the fats into the plain flour until it starts to resemble fine breadcrumbs.  Add just a smidgeon of cold water in small amounts until the dough just leaves the mixing bowl clean.  Leave the pastry to rest in a poly bag in refrigerator for half an hour (30 minutes).

After it’s settling time, put the oven on to 200oC/400oF.  Cover a board with a small amount of flour and roll out half of the pastry as thin as possible and cut into 7½ cm (3 inch) circles; afterwards, roll out the other half a thin as possible and make smaller rounds of 6cm (2½ inch) in diameter.

Lightly butter or oil a tray of 6cm (2½ inch) moulds.  Line the moulds with the larger rounds and then fill these with mincemeat to the level of the edges of the pastry.   With a little bit of cold water, gently dampen the edges of the pastry and cover them with the smaller pastry rounds and press them together with your fingers to seal the pies shut.  Brush the tops lightly with the milk and cut 2 or 3 holes into the tops with the end of a sharp knife.

Bake in the oven for 25 – 30 minutes until lightly brown.  Cool slightly in a tray and sprinkle with icing sugar.  I love eating them straight from the cooling tin.

Homemade mince pies

Homemade mince pies

Supposedly my grandfather would take the tops off and put in some more whisky to liven them up a bit more, while Sophie loves to eat hers with brandy butter.

White Snow… White Icing – A Recipe For Royal Icing

Saturday, December 19th, 2009
Christmas time in snowy North Yorkshire

Christmas time in snowy North Yorkshire

It’s freezing outside, never getting much above -2oC outside and the roads are all icy and mean. 

But it does get you into the Christmas spirit – we’ve got a wreath on the front door (complete with its cassia sticks), the tree has been decorated, Christmas cards are on every available space and are being hung now from strings hanging along wooden beams in the sitting room (not sure how many of the people who’ve sent us cards I actually remember) and the children have broken up from school.  And we’re on the way with wrapping Christmas presents; we’ll work out the gaps in our list this weekend.

So with white outside, it seems very fitting to be icing the Christmas cake.  We’re never that neat at the icing of cakes, but the end result tastes the same.  I’ve never been one for presentation; basically I’m rubbish at the finickity side of cooking, so I leave that to others.

The recipe I use is one from Claire Macdonald of Macdonald, which is very similar to our traditional family recipe.  The only difference being that she uses glycerine and our traditional one just uses the egg whites, so it’s a bit more gloopy and a little less stiff.


750g/ 1½ lb icing sugar, sieved
4 large free-range egg whites, beaten to a froth
2tsp glycerine
1tbsp lemon juice

Sieving the icing sugar

Sieving the icing sugar

Beat the egg whites to a froth, then add the glycerine and the lemon juice and whisk a bit more to get it all throughly mixed through.  Mix in the sieved icing sugar.  Beat it together really well, then cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and leave the icing for an hour or two.

Covering the Christmas cake with icing

Covering the Christmas cake with icing

Then simply dollop some icing onto the marzipanned cake and start spreading it over.  Leave for a few days to set…well until Christmas, I suppose.

Now it’s time for Strictly Come Dancing Finals…Ricky Whittle is the best dancer but does he have the public support; we shall find out very shortly.

Recipe For Egg Free Marzipan And Baking For Christmas Fairs

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

It’s the time of the School Christmas Fairs, Nativity Plays and Carol Concerts and we are always being tapped for products or being asked to do some baking. 

But one of the problems we have always had is that, firstly, Christmas is our busiest part of the year for Steenbergs Organic in terms of order volume, and secondly, the fairs etc seem always to be mid-week.  But as both Sophie and I are working baking mid-week is almost impossible beyond the odd cake or biscuit.

As I discussed in an earlier blog, I have been experimenting with sweet making instead of baking.  Sweets last longer and can be made at the weekend and children (and adults) possibly prefer sweets to baked goods!

I have devised my own egg-free marzipan which we have coated in delicious dark El Rey 61% chocolate from Venezuela, as well as moulding chocolate into santa shapes, snowmen shapes and christmas bauble shapes; we used El Rey chocolate for all these – the dark one, a milk one and a white chocolate.  We have dipped brazil nuts in dark chocolate and milk chocolate.  We have also made milk chocolate circles and sprinkled them with mixed chop nuts and some sultanas.

These have then been bagged up into some polythene bags and then put into some nice Christmassy small bags for sale.  As always, the amount of effort, cost of materials and packaging never quite add up to the sales price, but you cannot be an accountant about everything in life.

Christmas sweets and shortbread snowman

Christmas sweets and shortbread snowman

This morning I have also started my token bit of baking – some shortbread snowmen, using a mould that we got at Lakeland.

So I’ve done my duty and I can go and listen to the school carol concert today in Ripon Cathedral with a clear conscience.

For those who are interested, the marzipan I made is a variation on something I found on the web.  I am going to keep my recipe a secret but heres the one from the Internet: 

350g/ ½lb organic ground almonds
350g/ ½lb organic icing sugar
4tbsp water
2tsp Steenbergs natural almond extract

Mix all the ingredients together in a mixing bowl and knead dough until smooth.  Sprinkle some icing sugar on a baking board, roll flat and then cut into shapes – I made round balls and simple rectangles.

Recipe For Sweets At Christmas Fairs

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

Inspired by marzipanning the Christmas cake yesterday and acutely aware of the looming Christmas Fair after the Carol Concert at our children’s school, I decided to experiment with some sweet making this morning.  Also, chidhood memories of Niederegger marzipan may have played on my psyche.

I think we’ll look at making fudge and peppermint mice – I’ve already talked about the recipes for these on a previous blog: see

We used a slightly different marzipan recipe to the one from yesterday as I wanted something less rich and a bit drier.  I also beefed up the almond flavour with some of our very own Steenbergs natural almond extract.


350g/12oz   Ground almonds, delumped using your fingers
175g /6oz   Icing sugar, sieved
175g/6oz   Caster sugar
1½tsp  Lemon juice
¼tsp Steenbergs natural almond extract
1 Free range egg, lightly beaten

Put the ground almonds and sugars together in a mixing bowl, then make a hole in the centre.  Add the lemon juice, natural almond extract and beaten eggs into the hole.  Mix it all together – I use my hands for this, massaging it all together into a smooth paste.   When it has all mixed into a ball, put it onto a lightly iced board.

Now, you can do as you wish.  For this experimentation, I simply rolled small amounts into smooth balls; it’s probably about 1tsp for each ball, but you just need to break it off the main ball with the tips of your fingers.  We then dropped some of the balls into cocoa which is nice and easy, but the children were not sure about the mix of the bitterness of the cocoa and the sweetness of the marzipan; I actually quite liked it.

Coating marzipan in dark chocolate

Coating marzipan in dark chocolate

For the remainder, I melted two 150g bars of dark Green & Black’s chocolate in a bowl over a pan of boiling water.  We then dipped the balls into the melted chocolate and using a toothpick scooped them out and left them to dry on some baking parchment.

You probably only need 200g of chocolate as we had some left over and poured this into some chocolate moulds that we have to make some chocolates.  The dark chocolate worked really well against the sweetness of the marzipan, but milk chocolate would work better for individual chocolates.  I think we will also look at getting some brazil nuts and coat those in chocolate, as well as some white chocolate to play with the colours a bit.  This could really be quite fun; really messy fun.

A selection of homemade sweets

A selection of homemade sweets

We also experimented using the marzipan with trying to make mice shapes.  We shaped the marzipan into a thick oval, teased out the end to make a nose and pinched up two small bits to make the ears.  Then we stuck on some pink coloured balls for the eyes.  We will either use string or find some edible shoelace to make the tails when we use the peppermint cream mix to make the actual ones.

Everyone’s got involved in some capacity, particularly scoffing the sweets down!

I have ordered some little gold truffle boxes to put them and they have Merry Christmas printed on them.

Recipe For Marzipan For Christmas Cake

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

I love marzipan, which is often called in a highly industrial way almond paste (an honest but bland name). 


It reminds me of the childhood magic of Christmas time.  It was especially magical as my mother’s family – she’s German – would send over the most beautiful Christmas treats.  However, much of that mysterious magic has gone as relatively cheap versions of lebkuchen, stollen and spekulatius are available in every supermarket, baker or discount store. 

And marzipan treats were part of that magic – siz inch bars of marzipan from Niederegger covered in chocolate.  I don’t know whether my tastes have got more refined now that I cook myself or whether the recipes have been cheapened over the years, but the marzipan and chocolate seems much more artificial now than they used to be.

We always made extra marzipan to make marzipan kugeln or marzipan balls, plus I would always love to lick my fingers clean.

Nostalgia; you can’t beat it, so keep on those rose tinted glasses.

600g/ 1¼lb ground almonds, sieved
275g/ 10oz caster sugar
275g/10oz icing sugar, sieved
4tsp lemon juice
2tbsp orange flower water or sherry (Steenbergs do the best organic orange flower water, but I am not biased of course)
4 large egg yolks
Apricot jam (the best you can find)

Mix all the ingredients together well.  Use your hands if you want, but make sure that they are very clean first. 

Put 4 tablespoons of apricot jam into a small pan and gently heat until runny.  Spread this over the cake.  You probably don’t need the apricot to make it stick the Christmas cake and marzipan together, but I love the additional subtle flavour; layering of flavours is one of my cooking principles especially when they are thin, almost ghostlike hints.

DSC_0758_edited-1Halve the marzipan and using a rolling pin, flatten it out and then place on top of the cake.  With the palm of your hands and fingers, smooth it all over the top of the cake. 

Using the second half of the marzipan, smooth this out using a rolling pin and slice in half lengthways.  Using the top half of marzipan,  curve it around part of the side of the cake.  Now take the rest of the marzipan and curve this around the rest of the cake.  Now using your hands and fingers, smooth the marzipan around the edges of the cake, making the join between the pieces, and trimming where necessary.

If you have any excess marzipan, eat and enjoy.

Cover and leave to dry.  In a couple of weeks time, the cake will be ready for icing.

Time to check your Christmas cake etc

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

It’s been so wet and miserable over the last few weeks and we’ve had a tsunami of orders at Steenbergs so I’ve had no time to think about my blog, but it’s 6 in the morning and I’m up and awake. 

The River Ure broke its banks by Ripon Race Course, so we had to drive through a ford where the two flooded fields overflowed into each other.  The Ure also flooded by the bridge at Boroughbridge and their sandbags were still out last night, and someone said the bridge may have moved, but I saw no-one looking at it so I guess it has been checked.

The beginning of December is the time when I take a peak at my Christmas cake and mincemeat.  You can also do the same with your Christmas pudding if you wish but I tend to leave that alone.

Carefully unwrap the Christmas cake and when open drizzle perhaps 2 or 3 tablespoons of brandy or whisky (depending on what you used when you made your cake).  Give it a few minutes to ooze into the cake and then carefully wrap the cake up again and put it back somewhere cool.

Then I have a look at the mincemeat, which you can give a stir and check the ingredients are well mixed.  If you feel it’s looking a bit dry, you can add maybe a tablespoon of pure orange juice, but it should be okay. 

Our mincemeat is dryer and less sweet than most of the recipes you find as we don’t add dark sugar to it, but I do not have a sweet tooth; the moistness really comes later as the suet adds the fat when you cook it, but even so it is still less fatty than most mixtures.  So apologies to anyone who prefers the classic style like Delia Smith’s recipe.

We’ll be marzipanning the cake this weekend, so be prepared.

A Christmas Traditional Craft – Making A Pomander

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

Today we’ve had a ago at making pomanders.  Pomanders were used in England from the medieval period until the 18th century as a way of perfuming the air.

They are pretty fiddly when you’ve got clunky fingers like me and the cloves start hurting your thumbs after a bit, but they are good family bit of fun and are another tradition around the holiday season.

What you need

Ingredients for pomander

Ingredients for pomander

1 medium sized orange
25g organic cloves (whole)
1tsp orris root powder
1tsp organic Fairtrade cinnamon powder
Some ribbon and tape
A few pins and a cocktail stick
A paper bag or greaseproof paper 

  1. Gently need the orange in your hands to soften the skinDSC_0756_edited-1
  2. Divide the surface of the orange into 4 equal parts and pin the tape into place.  This is where the ribbon will be attached later.
  3. Pierce the skin of the orange with the cocktail stick and set in the organic cloves.  Completely cover the orange with organic cloves.
  4. Mix together the organic cinnamon and orris root powder and put this mix into a paper bag or on a sheet of greaseproof paper.  Roll the orange in the spices mix.
  5. Leave the orange in the paper bag and store in a warm, dry place, or (alternatively) wrap the orange in tissue paper.  An airing cupboard is ideal.  Leave until the skin under the tape is dry.
  6. When dry, remove the tape and decorate with the ribbon and with a bow.