Let the baking begin!
With St. Nicholas Day right around the corner, we opened our Christmas Baking Season 2008 with a bang! Inspired by this post at Catholic Cuisine, we decided to try our hands at two St. Nicholas Day traditions: Speculaas (a mild gingerbread or spice cookie), and St. Nicholas Bread.
This was really fun, and all three of the youngest kids were able to participate!
During Sunny-Boy's naptime, Taz, Junie B. and I were dough-prepping machines. First we started with the bread dough: Junie tried her hand at grating fresh lemon rind, while Taz expertly cracked the eggs and lightly whisked them. I sifted the flour, and Taz added the yeast, while Junie B. warmed the milk in the microwave and set the butter to melt on the stove. Taz whisked the sugar, butter, eggs and lemon rind together, while the yeast proofed; then I blended the wet and dry ingredients together. Satisfied that we had achieved the right texture for "playdoh-like" fun to come, we set the dough aside to rise and moved on to ...
Speculaas! We used the simple recipe we found in Evelyn Birge Vitz' A Continual Feast. The smells were wonderful, and delightfully "Christmas-y!" Since the dough needs to be chilled overnight, we set it in the fridge, and then took a break while I cleaned up the (considerable) mess. (Yes, it's nice to have the kids participate, but with SB soon to awaken from his nap, time was of the essence -- I figure we'll have ample opportunity to work on that connection another time!)
We'll be baking our Speculaas tomorrow, in stoneware cookie stamps we received as a gift several years ago but have never actually used. I'm really excited about this -- even Sunny-boy will be able to make a respectable, edible-looking cookie without much help! :)
As I cleaned up, Junie B. decided to decorate the Christmas Tree -- which didn't get put up until Monday night, after all, and won't be "officially" decorated until Wednesday -- with Little People Nativity and Noah's Ark figures. Taz, who has been under the weather all week, took the opportunity to fall asleep. And in the quiet that ensued, I actually had a rare moment to myself!
Being singularly unprepared for such an eventuality, I decided to go ahead and try my hand at making a bread dough St. Nicholas. Junie came in as I got well underway, and decided to get to work on her own. Then SB woke up, and had a blast squishing and forming dough, and liberally painting the dough with egg yolk. It all had a natural, easy feel to it, utterly lacking the craziness that can sometimes accompany a baking activity, no matter how well thought-out the original game plan.
The St. Nick figures we created baked up in about 25 minutes, and for a first try, I'd say they came out pretty nicely! This is the first time I deliberately started our Christmas baking as part of a feast day preparation. What a nice way to begin.
And what a beautiful extension to our St. Nicholas Day family traditions!