The Christmas Chronicles: Notes, stories & 100 essential recipes for midwinter
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Roll a strip of almond paste the same length as the string, and the same width as the height of the cake. There is no party tonight, no fire lit in the garden, just the occasional glances at a particularly extravagant cascade of lights over the East End. We can get more adventurous, using them to shake up a dish of stewed apple for breakfast; serving them alongside a slice of sugar-crusted sponge cake or with home-made vanilla custard.
Even better, perhaps, is to serve a thick, strained yogurt with them and a scattering of toasted, flaked almonds. An excellent podcast great stories that send you back to your childhood and give great ideas for the years to come. I should add that if your idea of Christmas is all candy canes and fluffy kittens then this is not the book for you.A tiny glass of apricot brandy, glowing like a candle, the fruit steeping quietly for a month with orange zest and star anise.
If you make the cake early enough, or at least a month before you need it, you will have the opportunity to ‘feed it’ with alcohol. Along the path there’ll be recipes for some of your festive favourites and some new ideas, too, to excite your palate in these cold months.The remaining fruit – bundles of joy, soft as a pillow, juicy as a xiaolongbao dumpling – should not be wasted. I shall make a post each day and we can share our thoughts and feelings on the days recipes, sentiments and indeed Dear Old Nige himself. The snap of dry twigs underfoot, boots crunching on frozen grass, a fire spitting in the hearth, ice thawing on a pond.
Marzipan stars of differing sizes pressed on to the smooth almond paste can look suitably festive, especially if their edges are blowtorched here and there. You will need a deep, 20cm-diameter round cake tin with a removable base, lined with lightly buttered baking parchment. To be honest, I don’t bother, simply because dried fruits are not as dry today as they once were, being generally juicier and softer than in years gone by.The mysterious whiff of jasmine or narcissus caught in the cold air, the sadness of spent and blackened fireworks the morning after Bonfire Night, a row of pumpkins on a frosted allotment spied from a train window, the magical alchemy of frost and smoke. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and let the figs simmer for 20 minutes until soft and plump, and bloated with wine.