07 December, 2013

"Happy Christmas!" From Europe, With Love: Day 7: Christmas

I spent most of my life as a teenager just DYING to know at least ONE person that was actually from England.  Never happened...

Fast forward 20 years and now we are stationed in Canada and a handful of the folks in our congregation are, in fact, straight off the boat English folks.  And for this...I am truly thankful.  I LA-HOVE just listening to them talk.  Somehow, everything is much more grand when said with an English accent.  Now, after having seen Hogwarts all decked out and watching them devour all of the fabulous English food in the Harry Potter movies, I feel like I simply must get to England at least once in my lifetime.  I most want to see the English countryside in the winter.  The tiny villages, the rolling hills covered in beautiful snow, and even maybe hit downtown London on our way back home and catch a glimpse of the famous "Harrod's" windows all decked out.  I hear this year they have a dress on display that has over 80,000 GBP worth of gemstones on it and that their whole display took over 500 hours to make.  That is something you just have to see, just once...isn't it?  Isn't it??  I think so...

Talking to the folks at church, they all got a little twinkle in their eye and very large smiles on their faces when they began talking about the Christmas dessert foods.  I couldn't help but smile myself.  It looked like they were actually remembering Christmas like a child does.  I loved it!  Before they told me about their favorite desserts I checked with them about the ones I already knew about including "Christmas Cake" and "Christmas Pudding"...I mean, Christmas Pudding is steeped in tradition and before I spoke with them, it seemed as though not having it on the table was a serious oversight.  The tradition of every person taking a turn stirring the pudding and so forth, sounded very serious and very much necessary to me by the time I was done reading about it.  But, none of them seemed to look giddy or excited when I talked about either the cake or the pudding.  What they lit up over was "bread and butter pudding", meringues, "ginger snaps", mince pie, and a few other dishes.

I was intrigued by ginger snaps.  I knew ginger biscuits (cookies in England) were a thing, but I made them last year for my Christmas series, so I mentioned to them that I had made them last year for my series.  The one lady said they weren't the ginger snaps most people think of when they hear "ginger snaps".  She described how they were made and right away, I knew what she was talking about.  But, I've known them by a different name for quite a long time.  Brandy Snaps!  Delicate little lacy looking tubes that, while still hot you wrap around something round (even the end of your whisk if you need to!) until they solidify a bit and when cooled you fill them with whipped cream that is...well, spiked with a nip of brandy.  I'd never heard them called "ginger snaps" before, even though there is ginger in the mix.  Quite interesting how names of recipes evolve over time.  I didn't mind.  I do love how beautiful those morsels are, they sure do dress up a cookie tray!  I also knew just the place to find a recipe, Mary Berry.  She is the English version of Martha Stewart, minus the criminal record of course.  

With tons of ideas tossing about in my head, I went home from church knowing what I was going to make, how to make it, and now...having a pretty good idea of whom I could give them to once I was done making them.  I hope they give them a sense of home and a feeling in their heart that just shouts "Happy Christmas!!"

**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.

Brandy Snaps
1/4 c. unsalted butter (55g)
1/4 c. Lyle's Golden Syrup (55g)
1/4 c. demerara sugar (55g) (demerara is NOT brown sugar)
2 T. brandy (for non-alcohoic version, use lemon juice)
1/3 c. + 2 1/2 tsp. flour (50g)
1/2 tsp. ground ginger

Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C)

Line several baking trays with parchment paper and get your tools ready.  I used four trays in all and my tools of choosing were my metal whisk and my offset cake spatula.

Toss the butter, sugar, and syrup into a medium sized saucepan that is fairly heavy bottomed.  Heat this together on low (you don’t want it to boil, it will turn into candy), stirring occasionally.  To make sure that the sugar has dissolved pull a spoon across the bottom of the pan until you don’t hear a gritty sound anymore. 

Set aside to cool slightly, about 2-3 minutes then sift in the flour and ground ginger.  Whisk thoroughly and then drop teaspoonfuls, four at a time, on each baking sheet and bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes.  All of my pans were only taking exactly 10 minutes until I started dropping heaping teaspoonfuls of sauce onto the pans.  Then it took 12 minutes.


Once the timer goes off, take them out of the oven and wait about 30 seconds before taking them off of the baking sheet.  Then, using something flat like a fillet knife or an offset spatula gently slide the flat utensil under the lacy sheet of sugar.  Working quickly, set the piece of sugar dough onto the end of your whisk handle and wrap it tightly around, overlapping the edges. 

It will look quite like a cannoli shell does when you are through.  Hold your finger over the overlapping seams for about a half minute then slide it off of the whisk and do the next sheet of sugar.  If the sugar hardens before you get to it…just toss it in the oven on the baking sheet that is in there.  It will soften up in just seconds.  That happened to me once on sheet #3…I tossed it in and before I could even take a picture of the arced piece of sugar it was flat already…and ready for me to take it out immediately and shape it. 

   Worked like a charm!  This is a very forgiving cookie to make!

After you have shaped them all wait until you are ready to serve them and then whip some heavy cream with confectioners’ sugar and whip it until it forms stiff peaks.  Working quickly with a chilled piping bag (if possible), pipe whipped cream into the brandy snaps RIGHT before serving.  Until serving, store them in a well circulated place on parchment or wax paper.  If you fill them all and let them sit…the snaps will weep and so will your whipped cream.  For extra flair you can add lemon oil to the cream before whipping or…another 1 tsp. of ground ginger sifted in with the sugar before whipping.  Have fun with the recipe!  =)  You could even switch it up and use Grand Marnier instead of brandy to give the snaps a fabulous orange flavor.  The sky is the limit!

When I made my whipped cream for these I added a nip of orange oil to one batch with the cream and the powdered sugar and then to the other batch I added a nip of lemon oil and 1/4 tsp. of ginger powder as well.  Both tasted fabulous with the snaps and actually made me like them when I previously hadn't enjoyed them very much.  When I tried a snap without filling, I cringed.  They are very reminiscent of the flavor of brittle and the only person in this house that likes brittle is my Mister.  But the whipped cream changes the whole taste and feel of the snap so much that I decided this morning that I quite enjoy them and I can clearly see why it brought so much joy to my church friends even when they were only talking about them.  These will dress up any Christmas tray you make this year, so give them a try and see if you don't fall in love!

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