Friday, January 09, 2009

Jan, 9th

No, I'm not confused or mad (though my family might contest that), I know that even for the Orthodox and the Armenians the Nativity was a few days ago (1). But not only did we have snow on Tuesday (which reminded me of a late January or early February when my youngest experienced snow for the first time - he threw his arm in the air and exuberantly exclaimed "Christmas!"), no, yesterday our parcels were finally delivered! Two big presents - an x-box and a dyson - which my BH had ordered at the end of November!! -- Don't ask! It's one of those tangled webs in which every protagonist, as frantically and insufficiently as Adam and Eve in Paradise, tries to cover up their shame. With threads of narratives instead of fig leaves, as it were.
But hey, I'm all in favour of moving the feast! Further away from our birthdays for starters (mine and my first-born's on the 23rd). Then there is the much higher chance of snow in January - it is, after all, on average, the coolest month of the year within most of the Northern Hemisphere (2). And think of all the Christmas bargains! You don't even have to leave the house and join the mammon worshipping hordes (except for the groceries) - just type 'unwanted gifts' into ebay, and pay less than half price for all kinds of presents that some poor soul has gone through agonising buying decisions for, not to mention the further pain of parting with money far too good for the items, just to find their relatives and friends flogging them at the a starter price of 99p. You'd be amazed at what some people don't seem to want, or claim they already have lots of (brand new ipods, iphones, laptops)... And even more amazed by the amount of 'Secret Santa' presents, just how many people bid on them, and by how much!

But I'm digressing as usual. The above mentioned lateness and incompetence makes me feel a bit better about being behind the times again with my first
January Recipe:

a traditional Kings' Cake. (3)

I wrote about the cake and the three magi in January 2006, and there is a lovely article here:

Epiphany, le jour des rois, Heilige Drei Könige, el Dia de los Tres Reyes, or even (mistakenly) Twelfth Night - call it what you will - was of course on the 6th. But various activities (see above) prevented me from baking it until the 7th, and writing about it until today. Not that I need to feel totally out of synch because of it - the whole period between Epiphany and Mardi Gras is sometimes known as "King Cake Season" in places like Louisiana. Mind you, The Louisiana King Cake is more of a bread, and because of its link to Mardi Gras, it features the Carnival colours: green, yellow and purple.

The Kings Cake I baked was in the French (and Tudor?) tradition:

(Kings' Cake)
Eric Lanlard from Good Food Live

125g caster sugar
125g ground almonds
125g unsalted Butter, softened
3 Eggs
1 tbsp dark rum
500g Puff pastry, (ideally made with butter)
sugar syrup, for brushing

For the egg wash
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp Milk

1. In a mixing bowl mix together the sugar and ground almonds.
2. Add the butter and cream it together until thoroughly mixed.
3. Beat in the eggs one by one, mixing thoroughly between each addition. Mix in the rum.
4. Divide the puff pastry into two even portions. Roll out each portion and cut out two puff pastry circles, each 25cm across and 3-4mm thick.
5. Place one puff pastry disc on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment.
6. Make the egg wash by beating together the yolk and milk.
7. Spoon the almond cream into the centre of the pastry disc, leaving a 5cm edge.
8. Brush the edges of the pastry disc with the egg wash.
9. Place the other pastry disc over the almond filing and seal the edges together firmly.
10. Chill the Galette des Rois for 1 hour in the refrigerator.
11. Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas 4.

12. Brush the Galette des Rois with the egg wash. Using a small, sharp knife cut the edges into a scallop pattern. Using the tip of the knife cut a sun ray pattern on the top.
13. Bake the Galette des Rois for 40 minutes, until golden.
14. Remove from the oven and brush at once with sugar syrup.
15. If eating the cake to celebrate Epiphany add a small ceramic figure to the almond mixture. Traditionally whoever finds the figure in their slice of Galette will be the king or queen.

Things I changed:
1) After watching videos on how to prepare a Galette des Rois on You Tube, I used Amaretto instead of rum, but I think, next time I'll use rum for more depth. As usual, any alcohol may be substituted - one girl on You Tube used Kirsch!
2) I used a pastry implement to make a pattern (not a sun ray, just criss cross), and yes, it's very important not to pierce the top - the frangipane will ooze out (as happened with mine as you can probably see)
3) I didn't have a ceramic figure or dried broad bean, so I used a dried kidney bean instead; worked, too.

Other things I would change:
It really doesn't need quite such a large amount of frangipane mixture for my liking. So I would use only half the amount for the same size cake. My mixture was also much softer than those shown on You Tube, so I might only use 1 egg next time.

I also need to make a note to self: 1 tbsp of sugar with 1 tbsp of water is enough for the sugar syrup.

Tastewise, I was very pleased with the result, and my BH was particularly fond of it.

So, hopefully, this will become a tradition in our household. Just remains to research the link. On TudorTwelfth Night (defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "the evening of the fifth of January, preceding Twelfth Day, the eve of the Epiphany, formerly the last day of the Christmas festivities and observed as a time of merrymaking"), a cake which contained a bean was eaten and whoever found it would preside over the feast as King of the Bean. It marked the end of the winter festival (the start of which was All Hallows Eve - Halloween), and had strong elements of the Lord of Misrule tradition (as present in the Celtic Samhain or the Roman festival Saturnalia). The world turning upside down for a day, i.e. reversing the pecking order, with those at the top becoming the peasants and vice versa, can be traced back to pre-Christian European festivals, and is still present to this day during other feast days (May 1st, in places, or Altweiberfastnacht during the German Carnival) (4).
Shakespeare's Twelfth Night or What You Will also features elements of reversal, such as Viola dressing as a man, and Malvolio, the servant, imagining that he can become a nobleman.
Interestingly, it is recorded as having had its first performance on
Candlemas Day 1602, the festival which some cultures deem to be the real end of the celebrations. This is why the greenery put up at Christmas is taken down at Epiphany in some European cultures, whereas in others it remains up until Candlemas. As if there were not enough confusion without this (5), it is further complicated by the circumstance that the exact date of Candlemas depends on whether you ask Western Christians, Orthodox Christians, or Armenian Christians. Maybe a bit more about that in February...

But before that, there's Burns Night...

(1) More about that and Candlemas further down...
(2) Charlemagne called it Wintarmonath (winter month), the Finnish call it the month of the heart of winter (tammikuu), and the Czech go even further by calling it leden, meaning ice month. (cf Wikipedia)
(3) The Gâteau des Rois in Provence or the Galette des Rois in the northern half of France and Belgium.
(4) You'll just have to wait...
(5) Telegraph, Jan 5th, 2009, Christmas ends in confusion over when Twelfth Night falls (By Martin Beckford, Religious Affairs Correspondent): "...many people believe Twelfth Night falls on Jan 6, at the end of the 12th day after Christmas, and so keep their decorations hanging in their homes for an extra day. The difference in opinion is said to be down to the fact that in centuries past, Christmas was deemed to start at sunset on Dec 24 and so the 12th night following it was Jan 5. Nowadays, people count from Dec 25 and so assume Twelfth Night falls on the 6th.
Adding to the confusion, however, most of England's churches remain decorated beyond Twelfth Night so that they can use crib scenes in Epiphany services." ... "A spokesman for the Church of England said: "Twelfth Night is the night before Epiphany and is the night, tradition says, when Christmas decorations should be taken down."
And this is just the confusion about Twelfth Night/Epiphany! I have found online opinions which suggest taking the decorations down as early as Boxing Day!! That's preposterous, of course, and would only make any sense in those cultures where they go up as early - apparently - as Thanksgiving Day (4th Thursday in November)! In Germany, where the tree isn't brought in from outside until the morning of Christmas Eve, discarding it on Boxing Day would be an awful lot of expense and effort for an awfully short time!
Well, my decorations are down but not packed away yet, as would befit our forever chaotic household, in which it is forever Christmas (more about that some other time...), but which, according to another superstition I found online, is a very bad omen: "My grandmother said to take them down by New Year's Day or you'll be lazy all year"! (It would explain the story of my life...)
In Germany, by the way, there was a special refuse collection for Christmas trees on January, 6th. So unless you wanted to dispose of it yourself, you made sure it was bare by Twelfth Night. Not that I've ever heard anyone call it that there! But I did come across a mentioning of The 12 Dark Nights recently..., so maybe a spot of further research is needed!

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