11 December, 2013

"Happy Christmas!" From Europe, With Love: Day 11: Kerstmis

These days I have friends in nearly every corner of this world.  Not only because I am a military spouse, but also because I am a member of the LDS faith which is expansive and diverse.  I have many friends living in Europe currently and one of them is smack dab in Assen; a city in northeast of the Netherlands.  I've known him since...well, I don't really need to expose my age here but, suffice it to say I've known him longer than I have been married.  How's that?

He was awfully excited when I told him what I was doing with my 12 Days of Christmas series this year as well as eager and willing to give me a short list of desserts to choose from that are commonly made and consumed to celebrate Christmas in the Netherlands.  Honestly, I would have made any one of them, but after looking at what exactly I was getting myself and my readers into I decided I wanted to do something I normally wouldn't dare try to make simply because it seemed...complicated.  I'm sure some of you are laughing but, I don't consider the things I normally do for this flog to be out of my wheelhouse.  But, the dish I chose....Kerstkrans...it involves making an almond paste one month ahead of time, making a puff pastry *like* dough, rolling the sucker to the perfect thickness, roll it properly, and then decorating it like I have been doing it for forever.  Not something I would normally take on for a series I want beginners to feel comfortable doing.  The good news is...if I can pull it off, that means you can too!

So now that I mentioned it once, I had better talk about the filling caveat.  The almond filling needs to be made 1 month ahead of time and refrigerated until you are ready to make the Kerstkrans.  I am guessing that the lemon zest needs time to permeate the almond mixture fully.  All I can think when I see recipes like this one and the German Lebkuchen recipe is that Europeans sure love to age their ingredients.  There isn't anything wrong with that, but that sure takes a lot more patience than most people really have when it comes to trying out a new recipe.  A whole month...  Lord help us all.  But, you know...patience is a virtue.  Vrolijke Kerstmis van mijn keuken aan van u!

**The U.S. measurements appear first followed by the European weights in parenthesis, unless only U.S. measurements were given.  I weighed the amounts out first, then measured them with U.S. measuring cups and spoons.  You can thank me later.

2 1/2 c. blanched almonds (350g)
heaping 3/4 c. caster sugar (150g)
1 egg
zest of 1 lemon
store bought puff pastry or 1 recipe of pastry dough (below)
apricot jam
maraschino cherries
lemon icing (recipe will follow)
sliced almonds

Pastry Dough
1 c. flour
1/2 c. butter
pinch of salt
water to mix

Lemon Glaze
1 c. powdered sugar
4 T. lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon oil

***Between starting the filling for this recipe in November and it coming to the time for me to use the filling in December, I fell ill...as did our Sweet Pea.  For the sake of my fever (from a random non lethal virus) I used store bought puff pastry because I just couldn't bring myself to stand any longer than necessary to make these.  I used plastic gloves, etc. as most of my kitchen offerings end up with folk outside of our home.  I am happy to report that no one that has had it has fallen ill...***

Pulse filling ingredients in food processor until you get a paste. 

Store in the fridge in a jar or Ziploc for 1 month.

I did two bags of filling so I could decorate two wreaths to show you both ways of garnishing the finished product.

On the day you plan to make your kestkrans, take your almond paste out of the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature, then kneed it a little. You can always add water if the paste is dry.

Roll your paste into a log about 10 inches long.  To measure it…join the ends and set it into a 10 inch round cake pan to test measurement.

Roll your pastry dough out into a 4 inch wide and 12 inch long strip.  Let the dough rest while you do the next two steps.

Preheat oven to 425 F (220 C)

Brush the parchment paper with some melted butter and set aside.  Shape your filling as best as you can into a circle, push a maraschino cherry into the almond paste every inch or so.

Place the almond paste roll onto the dough.

Fold the dough over the almond paste roll where the cherries have been stuck in.  This will become the BOTTOM of the kerstkrans.  The doubled over layers of dough will keep the cherry juice from being seen through the dough AND keep the juices IN the almond roll nicely.  Pinch/gather the dough securely before moving on to the next section of the wreath.  With some help, or very carefully on your own, turn the seam side DOWN onto the baking sheet.

Brush the top of your wreath with a beaten egg and put it in the oven to bake.

Bake 15-20 minutes one level lower than “middle” of oven if your heating element is on the top of your oven.  One level higher if your element is in the bottom of your oven…you want a gentle bake on this.  Above all, watch color of top of wreath.  DO NOT LET IT GET DARK!

As soon as you remove it from the oven glaze the wreath with a combination of apricot jam and water heated over the stove for a few minutes and then add the cherries every inch or so. 

Another option for garnish is to drizzle on some lemon glaze icing and put a generous sprinkle of sliced almonds on top of the glaze.  Both are considered traditional for the Kerstkrans.

All I can say about these is that I wish my step mother were HERE instead of in Germany...  She LOVES marzipan, whereas...I do not.  Neither does my Mister.  As loverly as the lemon zested almond roll tasted, it felt like there was way too much of it in comparison to everything else.  But, I also have to keep reminding myself that Europeans enjoy sweets WAY differently than Americans do.  Which is to say Americans typically over sweeten desserts to the point of diabetic coma, whereas the Europeans do not as a rule.  The bites with cherry in them were a nice break from the texture of the marzipan and an extra little burst of sweet to add to the overall flavor.  I don't want to discourage you from trying this recipe, but it wasn't my "cup of tea".  As beautiful as they are I would rather look at them than eat them.  But, give them a whirl...maybe you don't like things to be sickeningly sweet.  If you don't this Christmas dessert will be right up your alley! 

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