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I nearly left it too late. In fact, I should have started this back in June when the first summer stone fruits were appearing at the greengrocers. But, better late than never! Rumtopf which literally means rum pot, is a German dessert, traditionally eaten around Christmas. A mixture of various kinds of fruit, high-strength rum and sugar is filled into a large stoneware pot (the eponymous rum pot) and matured for several months until the fruit is very soft and completely saturated with rum. I made rumtopf last summer in a glass canning jar which worked fine, but this year I wanted a more stylish vessel. I ordered a Rumtopf crock from Germany and bought a late summer harvest of cherries, plums and nectarines, a bottle of Dark Navy Rum and some caster sugar.
Simply pit the fruit, half or slice the bigger ones, mix with half their weight in sugar and let it sit for about an hour. Then add it to the pot and cover it with rum. Repeat until the jar is nearly full. Then wait for a while. The raw spirit and fruit need some time to get acquainted, traditionally from the end of summer harvest until Christmas.
When we had our 2nd Annual Dessert Party last Christmas, I innocently opened my jar of summer fruits that had been steeping for about 5 months in alcohol and sugar. It was the surprise hit of the party! What’s not to like about a bowl of juicy, boozy fruit served with ice cream or over a slice of pound cake, or simply eaten with a spoon? Yum!!
So now my rumtopf crock is full and tucked away in a cupboard until December time.
Something to look forward to in the cold, dark days of winter and to set us dreaming about the heart of summer.
Sleeper – noun \ˈslē-pər\
1. One that sleeps
a. One that achieves unexpected recognition or success, as a racehorse or movie.
b. A spy or saboteur who is planted in an enemy country and who lives unobtrusively as a citizen of that country until activated into clandestine operations by a prearranged signal.
Last Christmas I made stollen for the first time, using a yeast dough recipe. As Steve and I were up in the Midlands for a few days this week, I didn’t get started with my holiday baking and cooking until Christmas Eve day. I found this quick recipe for sour cherry stollen from Guardian recipe contributor Dan Lepard. I didn’t even use my Kitchen Aid mixer, just a wooden spoon and gripstand mixing bowl.
Sour Cherry Stollen
- 100g unsalted butter
- 125g caster sugar
- Finely grated zest of an orange
- ½ tsp each ground cardamom, cinnamon and cloves
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 medium egg
- 150g quark (or natural fromage frais) – I used plain full-fat yoghurt.
- 325g plain flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 50g ground almonds
- 150g sour cherries
- 200g marzipan – store bought or homemade (recipe below)
- Rum, melted butter and icing sugar
Beat the butter, sugar, zest, spices and salt until smooth, then beat in the egg and quark.
Add the flour, baking powder, almonds and cherries, and mix to a soft, even dough.
On a floured worktop, pat out to an oval roughly 20cm long x 15cm deep.
I had some marzipan left over from last Christmas, but it had solidified into a brick. Several websites recommended steaming it in a microwave (which I do not own) so I decided to make my own. I found a good recipe and easy to follow instructions here.
- 150g icing sugar
- 150g ground almonds
- 1 egg white, lightly beaten with a fork
Mix together the sugar and almonds. Place in the bowl of a food processor. Start the motor and after 10 seconds, gradually add all of the egg white. (The beating of the fork was supposed to keep the egg white from glopping in all at once, but it was difficult to control). Mix for just a few seconds until it forms into a ball.
Roll the marzipan 18cm long, and lay in the centre of the dough. Fold the dough in half and seal with water, seam side down. I decided to make two smaller loaves so that a) I won’t have quite so much to get through at once, and b) I could give one as a gift.
Place on a tray lined with nonstick baking paper, and bake at 190C (170C fan-assisted)/375F/gas mark 5 for 40 minutes, until just golden and baked when a skewer is poked in. As soon as it’s out, brush first with rum and then lots of melted butter.
Once cold, brush with more butter, and dredge heavily with icing sugar. Wrap well and leave to mature for a week.
Well, by the very next day, I wasn’t about to wait for a whole week, so I had a piece with a cup of Fortnum & Mason Christmas Spiced tea for my first breakfast on Christmas day.
This non-yeast dough wasn’t as elastic and pliable to work with and it cracked during the baking, but tasted absolutely divine and the icing sugar beautifully covered up the flaws. I’m not sure why it didn’t seem to rise very much. Maybe because I used yoghurt, but didn’t add any baking soda?
I just did some quick research and learned that baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate and needs an acidifying agent, eg, buttermilk, youghurt to activate it. Carbon dioxide is produced, oven temperatures cause the gas to expand and the dough to rise. Baking powder is a mixture of sodium bicarbonate and cream of tartar (an acid) so doesn’t need any additional acid. I still don’t quite understand why the yoghurt substituted in my recipe (combined with the acid in the cream of tartar) wouldn’t cause the dough to rise enough using baking powder. I did find this very thorough discussion on leavening on baking911.com and the definitive recommendation is:
Adding buttermilk (an acid) instead of milk: if the recipe uses 1 teaspoons baking powder and you add ½ cup buttermilk, instead use ½ teaspoon baking powder + 1/8 teaspoon baking soda.
I’ll have to try this recipe again using fromage frais and see how it rises. I actually didn’t ming the dearth of dough though, as it meant that I got to the yummy marzipan centre that much quicker!
The marzipan had a light and delicate texture quite superior to store bought. It’s so easy to make that there’s really no excuse not to use home-made all of the time.
The sour cherries came out plump and toothsome. I might try soaking them for an hour in rum before mixing them in the next time, just to see what happens.
Speaking of rum, the flavour of the rum didn’t seem to come through very much. I might only give away half of the other loaf, so I can do a comparison tasting with the week-long matured loaf. Quality control, you know!
Eggnog is one of a few nostalgic, must have holiday treats from my childhood. As a kid, I remember getting cartons of eggnog from the supermarket at Thanksgiving and Christmas and loving it. And when I got older, spiking it with rum or brandy.
Since I can’t buy eggnog in the UK, I made some for our 2nd annual Dessert Party a couple of weeks ago. The homemade version is so much better than store bought and well worth the effort.
- 6 large eggs, plus 2 yolks
- 1/2 cup, plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 cups whole milk
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 1/4 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
- Additional grated nutmeg for garnish
Combine eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and salt in a heavy 3- or 4-quart pan, whisking until well-combined. Continue whisking while pouring milk in a slow, steady stream until completely incorporated. Turn on burner to lowest possible heat setting. Place pan on burner and stir mixture continuously until an instant-read thermometer reaches 160° F and the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Be patient. This should take about 45 to 60 minutes.
Strain mixture through a fine sieve into a large bowl to remove any accidental small cooked bits of egg. Add vanilla extract and nutmeg, stirring to combine. Pour into a glass pitcher, decanter, or container and cover with a lid or plastic wrap. Refrigerate this egg custard mixture to chill at least 4 hours or up to 3 days before finishing.
Just before serving, stir in the whipped cream and sprinkle with freshly ground nutmeg.
Eggnog may have simply developed from posset, a medieval European beverage made with hot milk. The “nog” part of its name may stem from the word “noggin”, a Middle English term used to describe a small, carved wooden mug used to serve alcohol.
The ingredients for the drink were expensive in England, so there it was popular mainly among the aristocracy. Those who could get milk and eggs to make eggnog mixed it with brandy or Madeira or even sherry. The drink crossed the Atlantic to the English colonies during the 18th century. Since brandy and wine were heavily taxed, rum from the Triangular Trade with the Caribbean was a cost-effective substitute.
The inexpensive liquor, coupled with plentiful farm and dairy products, helped the drink become very popular in America. When the supply of rum to the newly-founded United States was reduced as a consequence of the American Revolutionary War, Americans turned to domestic whiskey, and eventually bourbon in particular, as a substitute. Traditionally, eggnog was usually served warm and laced with spirits. Since the 1960s, eggnog has often been served cold and without spirits, both of which are significant departures from its historical origins.
I also remembered a drink called Tom and Jerry, a traditional Christmastime cocktail in the United States and did a bit of research. In the 1820′s Pierce Egan, a period author, wrote a book called “Life in London; or, The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn, Esq. and his elegant friend Corinthian Tom, accompanied by Bob Logic, The Oxonian, in their Rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis“. This book was enormously popular to young men who aspired to a dashing life and detailed drinking, gambling, rioting, cock-fighting and other branches of debauchery, either practised or contemplated by the friends.
To publicize his work Mr. Egan made up a variation of eggnog he called “Tom and Jerry”. It added 1/2 oz of brandy to the basic recipe (fortifying it considerably and adding further to its popularity).
Life in London was wonderfully illustrated by George and Robert Cruikshank.
To make a Tom and Jerry cocktail, I simply warmed up a cup of eggnog and added a ½ jigger each of rum and brandy. Egan’s book gave us not only the expression ‘Tom and Jerryism’ for the loutish behaviour the friends liked to engage in, but also provided William Hanna and Joseph Barbera with the names for their more famous cat-and-mouse pair.
So, I’ll leave you now with inspiration for a new holiday tipple and ‘The Night Before Christmas’ . . . . .
. . . . . . and a reminder not to imbibe too much eggnog!