My mother who was Norwegian, loved the holiday season and all of the traditions that went along with it. She did Christmas BIG with loads of special holiday foods and our home decorated to the brim. Nothing was gaudy with my mother, she was the embodiment of class, taste and style.
When she passed away in 2004, much of what we, her children and grandchildren, associated with the Christmas experience, went with her. It was hard for us to find the magic, knowing that while we could put up the tree and decorate it as she did, her touch and presence were very noticeably absent.
It wasn’t until Christmas of 2009 when the magic returned for me, with a small Charlie Brown tree in San Antonio and my first Christmas with Ric. We put a $25.00 limit on spending for gifts for each other as we both agreed that it wasn’t about the stuff, it was about the special feeling we had with the two of us being there together.
As I cooked our Christmas meal, Ric sat on a stool and played his guitar and sang to me…pure magic. In our house that was in the midst of rennovation with no electricity in the dining room, we lit loads of candles and shared our meal with our friends Helen, Eddie and their two children Zachary and Luke. We sat around my mother’s old dining room table, cracked our English poppers open, donned our silly paper crowns and my home and my life were filled with laughter, the sounds of kids playing, my dog curled up at my feet and love.
This year we will head off to Colorado to celebrate the holidays with my family. My sister-in-law Mara, has her own special way of entertaining and decorating her home with the ever present fire in the fireplace, music playing, beautifully scented candles everywhere, her handmade wreaths and comfort food on the table…again, magic. She knows how to set a cozy and inviting scene that is so easy to sink into. Although we always joke that when I come to town everyone clears out of the kitchen and they look at me like, “Okay, what are you going to cook for us?”, she is a fabulous cook herself.
So I am looking forward to sitting in the kitchen with my family, cooking with my niece Hannah, eating stinky Stilton cheese on French bread with my brother and drinking some Glögg, a Norwegian mulled wine drink that my brother and I make each year in celebration of my mother. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter where we are as the magic of the holidays can be found anywhere as it is all about being with the ones we love.
Every year I bake Italian Panettone and give them out as gifts. This beautiful cake-like bread is a true labor of love as it is very temperamental and time consuming.
2 1/2 teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast of 1 small cake (18 grams) fresh yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
Stir the yeast into the water in a small bowl; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in the flour. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, 20 to 30 minutes.
2 1/2 teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast or 1 small cake (18 grams) fresh yeast
3 tablespoons warm water
2 eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
Stir the yeast into the water in mixing bow; let stand until creamy about 10 minutes. Add the sponge and beat thoroughly together. Add the eggs, flour, and sugar and mix well. Stir in the butter thoroughly. The entire process will take 5 to 6 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Stir the yeast into the water in a mixer bowl; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Add the sponge, eggs, flour, and sugar and mix with the paddle. Add the butter and mix until the dough is smooth and consistent, about 3 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
About 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus ? cup for kneading
Place the first dough in a large mixing bowl, if it isn’t already. Add the eggs, egg yolks, sugar, honey, vanilla, and salt and mix well. Add the butter and stir until blended. Stir in the flour and keep stirring until smooth. The dough will be soft, a bit like cookie dough. Knead gently on a well-floured surface with well-floured hands until it is smooth and holds its shape. You may need as much as 1 cup additional flour during the kneading.
Add the eggs, egg yolks, sugar, honey, vanilla, and salt to the first dough and mix thoroughly with the paddle. Add the butter and mix until smooth. Add the flour and ix again until smooth. The dough will be soft, a bit like cookie dough Change to the dough hook and knead until smooth and soft, about 2 minutes. Finish by kneading on a lightly floured work surface, using a little additional flour as necessary.
First Rise. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until tripled, 2 to 4 hours. The dough can also rise overnight at a cool room temperature (65° to 68° F).
1 1/2 cups golden raisins (a.k.a. sultanas)
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries (craisins)
Grated zest of oranges
2 to 3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
At least 30 minutes before the end of the first rise, soak the raisins in cool water to cover. Drain and pat dry. Cut the dough in half on a floured surface. Combine the raisins, cranberries, and orange zest and dust with 2 to 3 tablespoons flour. Pat each piece of dough into an oval and sprinkle each with a quarter of the fruit mixture. Roll up into a log. Gently flatten the dough again to create as much surface as possible, sprinkle with the remaining fruit mixture, and roll up again.
Shaping and Second Rise. Shape each piece into a ball and slip into 2 well-buttered panettone molds or 2-pound coffee cans lined with a parchment-paper circle on the bottom. For this panettone, the pan is very important – if you use a charlotte mold, springform pan, or soufflé dish, you will not get the same spectacular height or delicate porous texture. Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled, about 2 hours.
Heat the oven to 400° F. Just before baking, using a sharp razor or scissors cut an X in each loaf, brush the tops with and egg wash of 1 egg and 2 tablespoons of water, place in the oven and bake 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375° F and bake 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350° F and bake until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 30 minutes. Place the loaves on their sides on pillows covered with a clean towel to cool. If you place the warm panettone on a rack to cool, it will collapse.