Is it just me, or are people diving into the holidays with extra gusto this year? More than one of my friends confessed, with a definite air of asking for forgiveness, to breaking out the tinsel and Bing Crosby before Thanksgiving. (They shall remain nameless…FOR NOW.) My day-job officemates hung lights before I even arrived at work on Monday, and keep them lit despite the specter of blowing various circuits in our electrically dubious building. I even realized earlier this week that, if I don’t cool it, I might be sick of my favorite Andy Williams rendition of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” before it’s actually time to hear what Andy hears. What is going on here? Is it because Nordstrom wouldn’t decorate early? Whatever it is, apparently we all need a little Christmas, right this very minute. (If the New Christy Minstrels just popped, fully formed, into your head…well, you’re welcome.)
If you’re feeling the Christmas spirit this first day of December, well, you’re in luck: get to know this pile of classic Austenacious Christmas cheer! And if you’re not yet in the groove, what are you waiting for? Pull your Action Jane off the shelf, turn up your preferred version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” and consider the month ahead. After all, you only have twenty-five days to explode from holiday-induced stress/joy. Better get on it.
- Looking for the perfect gift for the Austenite in your life? Check out our 2011 Jane Austen gift guide! Still looking for some inspiration and maybe some Etsy stores to peruse? See previous gift guides here and here.
- Everything you can do, Jane can do better: Action Jane’s Christmas!
- There’s no combination like Jane, classic holiday ballet, and a short-story contest: Jane and Mrs. Fitzpatrick take on The Nutcracker.
- Looking for a Christmas craft with a Jane twist, or just need something to put on top of the tree? Make your Action Jane into a Christmas tree topper!
- For your holiday cheer and possibly a nice outing for the fire extinguisher: How to make plum pudding!
- From the English countryside to the north pole: Play the Letters to Santa game, Jane Austen style!
This is the time of the year when I love baking more than ever. I hear the Earth telling me, “Hey you guys, it’s autumn! You must bake!” I don’t how much time Jane Austen spent in her kitchen making pies, but she once said in a letter, “Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness.” I couldn’t agree with her more!
Even better than simply slaving away in the kitchen, autumn provides many ways to enjoy your pie-baking weekend with friends or family. Miss Ball, Miss Tarango, and I went apple picking in Sebastopol yesterday (with some wine tasting and found-art viewing thrown in). And today we had an apple baking extravaganza. The menu: apple cake (from Smitten Kitchen), apple pie, and apple puffs (from The Jane Austen Cookbook).
(Adapted from The Jane Austen Cookbook by Maggie Black and Deirdre Le Faye)
12 oz–1 lb cooking apples
1 tsp grated lemon peel
1 Tbsp orange marmalade
2 Tbsp brown sugar (more or less to your desired sweetness)
8 oz puff pastry
sugar for sprinkling
1. Peel, core, and slice the apples. Stew them in a little water until tender. (I have no idea what it means to stew. I simply let the water heat up and then let the apples simmer.) Drain well and reserve the cooking juice. Allow to cool. Put the cooked apple pulp in a bowl and mix in the lemon zest and marmalade (and cinnamon, if you like). Add the brown sugar.
2. Heat the oven to 425°. Grease and flour a baking sheet lightly, or cover baking sheet with parchment paper.
3. Cut the puff pastry into 4-inch squares. Divide the apple purée between the squares. Fold the pastry over diagonally to make turnovers, or fold the pastry horizontally to make rectangular pockets. Pinch the ends of the pastry to seal. (Alternately, what I ended up doing—mostly out of sheer laziness—press the square of pastry into a muffin tin, add apples, and add a bit of pastry cut into fun shapes for decoration.)
4. Brush the pastry lightly with the reserved apple juice and sprinkle with sugar.
5. Bake the puffs on the baking sheet for about 20 minutes. Serve warm, topped with a little extra marmalade or vanilla ice cream.
As I’ve been reading about food in Jane Austen’s time, I’m amazed at the thought of how a middle class household was fed. Most food items were produced on the estate, and only special items that couldn’t be produced locally (like sugar and tea) were purchased. Unlike my trips to Trader Joe’s, Safeway, and the farmer’s market every few days, they had to live off the land…or make do with whatever they had locked up in the cupboard. Can you imagine locking up sugar and tea? (“Aunt Jane, please please please let me have some sugar!!” “Back away, beeyotch…if you please.”) I, on the other hand, go through many pounds of sugar a year. In fact, I’m downright annoyed when I’m at Trader Joe’s and they only have two-pound bags of sugar. I need at least a five- or ten-pounder with all the baking I like to do.
After much mocking of the odd assortment of foods cooked in Regency times, we’ve arrived at the beginning of my Jane Austen Cooking Odyssey. Naturally, I’ve started with dessert. And what better dessert than something that sounds utterly ridiculous? Syllabub it is! Syllabub was typically served in a half liquid/half froth format (liquid in the bottom of the cup with cream on top) or an entirely frothy format known as “everlasting” syllabub. How romantic! I’ll go with the everlasting…
(Adapted from The Jane Austen Cookbook by Maggie Black and Deirdre Le Faye)
1-3/4 cups heavy cream
1 cup caster (superfine) sugar
1 cup medium-dry white wine
pinch of dry mustard powder
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
1. Mix the tablespoon of granulated sugar with half of the lemon zest and set aside.
2. In a deep bowl, mix the heavy cream, caster sugar, wine, mustard powder, lemon juice, and the rest of the lemon zest.
3. Beat the mixture with a electric beater until it is thick and peaks form.
4. Arrange the mixture in dessert glasses and chill overnight. Sprinkle some of the sugar/zest mixture on each serving.
Gentle readers, this stuff is awesome! It’s sweet but not overly sweet (though you might need to get a second opinion on that, as you must have realized by now that I’m a sugar hound). And the wine gives a delightful warmth to the dish. Syllabub is fairly light, so you may want to serve with cookies, fresh berries, or possibly even a simple cake.
Some notes about this particular recipe: I’m not entirely sure what the mustard powder does. (The cookbook states that it “gives body” and that the taste shouldn’t be noticeable. Is that sort of like using cream of tartar used when whipping egg whites?) I doubt it would make much of a difference if you left the mustard out. Also, feel free to serve without chilling. I ate mine right away. Though I’m chilling the leftovers, and I’ll compare the flavor texture tomorrow. Next time I’d like to try using cider (the alcoholic kind of the dry rather than sweet variety) instead of wine.
I also tried this Old English Syllabub recipe from cooks.com, which called for sherry and brandy instead of white wine. Fail. I couldn’t get it to stiffen up properly (that’s what’s in the glass at the top of the photo), and I found the flavor of the sherry and brandy to be a bit too strong. However, if you’re looking for something a little more exotic, you might try Nigella’s Amaretto Syllabub or Turkish Delight Syllabub. (Note to the ladies: I have it on good authority that your husband or significant other would certainly appreciate it if you pretend to be Nigella for an evening. Wear a low-cut v-neck sweater, and talk in a deep, sexy voice about how rich and delicious your cooking is.) In any case, get whipping and delight your closest friends and family or woo a potential suitor with a creamy syllabub!