I first experienced my American Christmas when I was fifteen years old. Coming from Australia, where we celebrate with barbeques on the beach, it was like something out of this world. There was a particular fragrance that circled around the festive tunes that played in the shopping malls. Decorations weren’t spared and people literally walked the streets with beautifully wrapped boxes piled on top of the other to put under the tree, just like in the movies. We were there visiting my step-mother’s family, so we spent a lot of our time celebrating in their homes and sampling all of the seasonal specialties. And then there was the snow! Flipping through the recently released cookbook, New York Christmas by Lisa Nieschlag and Lars Wentrup, took me back to that magical Christmas I spent as a fifteen year old. Let me tell you a little bit about it, along with sharing a couple of the Christmas recipes from the book.
This cookbook gets you in the festive spirit immediately. It begins with a Christmas story by Paul Auster. He’s one of my favourite authors, so that was a nice surprise. Further into the book, between the recipes, are more stories by O. Henry and Virgina O’Hanlon, along with photographs around New York at this time of year. The fifty recipes are then grouped into Christmas Baking, Winter Brunch, Happy Holidays, Christmas Dinner and New Year’s Eve. All food images are beautifully styled and photographed by Lisa Nieschlag and Julia Cawley, of Liz & Jewels.
If you’re like me and find yourself scouring the Internet at this time of year to create special menus, you’ll be happy to find what you’re after in one beautiful edition. Here is a sample of what to expect, with a Chocolate Babka and a Christmas Crumble recipe from the book found below for you. I will be certainly baking both of these leading up to Christmas and as a dessert on the day.
If you like your babka very sweet and moist, brush with sugar syrup after baking. To make the syrup,
heat 100 g (3½ oz) sugar and 60 ml (¼ cup) water in a small saucepan. Briefly bring to a boil and set aside. Brush the babka with the syrup as soon as it comes out of the oven, then leave to cool a little
Makes 1 loaf
(about 25 x 10 cm/10 x 4 inches)
For the dough:
290 g (10¼ oz) flour
1½ tsp dried yeast
40 g (1½ oz) sugar
1 generous pinch of salt
60 ml (2 fl oz/¼ cup)
70 g (2½ oz) butter, softened
For the filling:
50 g (1¾ oz) hazelnuts, blanched, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp brown sugar
70 g (2½ oz) high-quality
50 g (1¾ oz) butter
25 g (1 oz) icing sugar
2 tbsp cocoa powder
Butter for the tin
Flour for dusting the
For the dough, combine the flour, yeast, sugar and salt in
a mixing bowl. Add the eggs, milk and butter and knead
everything for about 10 minutes to make a smooth, pliable dough. Cover the bowl with cling wrap and leave the dough to rise for about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, for the filling, dry-roast the hazelnuts in a
small frying pan. Add the sugar and caramelise lightly.
Combine the semi-sweet chocolate and butter and melt over
a double boiler. Set aside to cool, then stir in the icing sugar and cocoa powder.
Butter the loaf tin. Dust your benchtop with flour and
roll the dough out to a rectangle about 35 x 25 cm
(14 x 10 inches) size. Spread the chocolate filling evenly
across the dough, leaving a margin of about 1.5 cm (58 inch).
Sprinkle with the caramelised nuts, then roll up the dough tightly and evenly, starting from the narrow side. Halve the rolled-up dough lengthwise with a sharp knife to allow the layers of dough and filling to fan out decoratively. Pinch
the ends together and carefully intertwine the two strands,
making sure that the cut surfaces always point upwards. Transfer the intertwined dough roll to the loaf tin, cover
and set aside to rise for another hour.
Make sure to preheat the oven in time to 175°C
(330°F/Gas mark 4-5). Bake the babka for 30–35 minutes. If the surface gets too dark, cover the loaf with aluminium foil after about half of the baking time. Remove the tin from the oven and set aside to cool before removing the babka from the tin. Leave to cool fully before slicing.
This crumble tastes irresistibly good as is, but if you like you can stir a pinch of cinnamon into a cup of full-fat or heavy sour cream and add a dollop of this mixture to each jar before serving. Wow!
For the crumble:
80 g (2¾ oz/½ cup) flour
40 g (1½ oz) sugar
1-2 tsp vanilla sugar
2 heaped tsp
cocoa powder (optional)
½ tsp cinnamon
1 pinch salt
50 g (1¾ oz) cold butter, diced
For the fruit mixture:
A little lemon juice
1 vanilla pod
300 ml (10½ fl oz) cherry or
40 g (1½ oz) sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 tsp cornflour (cornstarch)
250 g (9 oz/2 cups)
mixed frozen berries to taste
(e.g. blackberries, raspberries, redcurrants), defrosted
4 small glass jars
Icing sugar (confectioner’s sugar)for dusting
Peel, core and finely dice the pears. Combine with a little
lemon juice to prevent them from browning. Slice the vanilla pod open lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a knife.
Add the cherry or redcurrant juice to a saucepan together with the sugar, vanilla seeds and pod and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil. Simmer for about 10 minutes to reduce a little. Whisk the cornflour with 1–2 tablespoons cold water until smooth. Add to the simmering liquid and keep stirring until thickened. Fold in the diced pears and berries. Remove the saucepan from the heat and leave everything to cool. Remove the vanilla pod and cinnamon stick.
Preheat the oven to 175°C (330°F/Gas mark 4-5). For the crumble topping, combine the flour with the sugar, vanilla sugar, cocoa powder to taste, cinnamon and salt. Add the chilled butter and rub in until the mixture holds together
Fill the glass jars two thirds with the fruit mixture, then
evenly fill the jars up with the crumble topping. Bake for 12–14 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool until the crumbles are just warm. Dust with icing sugar and serve.
// New York Christmas by Lisa Nieschlag and Lars Wentrup (Murdoch Books, £20). Photography by Lisa Nieschlag and Julia Cawley.
/// Top coffee table image by Mel Chesneau for Styled Canvas.