Sugar & Spice

Around the world at this time, all the countries that celebrate Christmas are busy making their own traditional foods eaten at this time of year, particularly the sweets. England’s traditional fare heavily features a variety of ways of eating  spiced mixed fruits, either in cakes or pies or puddings. On the Continent there are some traditional sweetmeats that are not quite so heavy and rich. In Italy they eat a fabulously light sweet bread called Panetone which is cooked with candied peel and dried fruit, there is also a plainer cake called Pandoro. In Germany, Switzerland and Austria they go for ginger spiced biscuits and cakes, and in Spain, almonds are used a great deal.

An italien Pandoro cake. Side view with cut

An italien Pandoro cake. Side view with cut (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recently bought some biscuits that are ubiquitous throughout Spain at times of celebration: polvorones and mantecados. these are the light, crumbly and melt in the mouth. They are eaten in Mexico at weddings and are made with ground almonds. I wanted to try to make some as they were so delicious and I found several recipes online that varied somewhat but they all had certain things in common, one of them that you bake the flour until it turns lightly brown before mixing your ingredients together. Everything is very finely ground to give that light crumbly texture. I didn’t quite achieve the lightness on my first attempt but they tasted similar, I’ll have to have another stab at it another time.

It struck me that there was a great similarity here with those little almond biscuits eaten in Cyprus where they are also traditionally given away at weddings. These are called kourabiedes and of course echo those eaten in Greece. At Christmas everyone makes these by the bucket load for the constant stream of guests that may appear. Alongside these are the other sweet biscuit melomakarona. I have never made either of these before and as I’m doing a bit of a home made theme this year as presents go, I thought I’d give them a whirl. I don’t have a recipe handed down through generations so I again looked online and found several  picking the one I liked the sound of here kourabiedes–greek-biscuits.aspx. I added rosewater. On another site it recommended that the butter is beaten to within an inch of its life for 20 minutes ….yes twenty and I thought ‘well why not do as the recipe says’ as this will certainly make it light and fluffy. They didn’t come out too bad although I think they might be better with a touch of cloves as suggested on a Greek site. These little biscuits are traditionally crescent-shaped and apparently this was in deference to the Turkish flag during their 400 year rule of the island, now they come in round or star shapes and again identical to the Spanish matecondas, they are heavily dusted with icing sugar.

My tooth has definitely got less sweet as I’ve got older and find that I don’t want to eat the usual rich heavily fruited sweets  of my youth and I tend to go for ginger spicy cakes. These kourabiedes suit me as they are very light and although there seems to be a more than generous sprinkling of sugar on the outside, they actually don’t contain much sugar so it balances out and you always have the choice of shaking the sugar off before you eat them.  I will definitely be making these again and maybe adding a few improvisations of my own in the future.

My other home-made efforts for presents include macaroons, individual ginger parkins, black forest chocolate fudge, and a sort of nutty, oaty, chocolate mix- I think I’ll call it “Sonia’s Nuts”!!!!!

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