The Spiritual Gardener: Recipes for a Glorious Christmas

Can you ever have too many ornaments on a Christmas tree? Well, yes, technically that is possible; but in practice it has never actually happened.

On Christmas Eve, we will open a few presents and have cheese fondue in the reading room, followed by a disc of video from Christmases when our children were small. Tears of laughter all round, is the usual result. Then chocolate fondue in the reading room and we will all fall into bed rather late.

stockings The stockings have been hung with care on the living room mantel.

 

nativityThis nativity scene grows with the addition each year of a piece or two, and now it occupies the entire surface of our dining room sideboard.

On Christmas Day, I will get up early, bake a Christmas Stollen and put a kringle in the oven to warm, treasured Scandinavian traditions from my childhood, and eventually everyone else will get up and we will start in on the presents in earnest. Then we will have our favorite Christmas egg casserole. Kids (younger kids) like to help with the Stollen, but it is best to make this before Christmas Day in future years, as it is much too involved for the great day itself; and you can make the egg soufflé the night before too.

NEXT: Recipe for Christmas Stollen

Christmas-StollenChristmas Stollen

5½ cups flour (more if the dough is sticky and too like cookie dough)

4 tsp. baking powder

1½ cups sugar

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. mace

1 tsp. ground cardamom

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg

8 oz. (or 1 10-oz. pkg.) slivered almonds, toasted and ground

1½ sticks unsalted butter

 

16 oz. softened cream cheese

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. almond extract

50 ml cognac (the size of an airplane bottle)

 

½ cup currants

½ cup golden raisins

½ cup dried cherries, chopped

½ cup dried pineapple, chopped

The peel of one lemon (not the white part), chopped fine

2 7-oz. tubes of almond paste (marzipan)

One tube of any cookie icing for decorating

Let the cream cheese and butter come to room temperature and put to one side. Then sift together the dry ingredients in the first group. Add the almonds, then cut in the butter with a pastry knife until the mixture resembles coarse sand.

In a blender, cream together the ingredients in the second group. Pour this into a bowl and stir in the dried fruit. Gradually add the wet mixture to the dry mixture until everything is well blended.

Work the dough into a ball and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead it for a few minutes, just until the dough is smooth and elastic.  Divide the dough into two halves. Shape one half of it into an oval, about 10 inches long and 8 inches wide and about one inch thick. With the edge of a blunt butter knife, crease it lengthwise, just off center. Roll out one of the tubes of almond paste to a little smaller than the crease, then lay the rolled out almond paste on top of the larger half of the Stollen, next to the crease. Fold the smaller side of the Stollen over the larger side, and place it on a greased baking sheet. The traditional idea, you see, is that the folded, lumpy bread resembles the bundle of the infant Jesus.

Brush it lightly with melted butter before baking. Repeat for the second loaf.  Makes two large loaves or four small ones.  Bake at 350 for about 50-55 minutes.  If it gets too brown, cover it with aluminum foil. Allow to cool before decorating it with the cookie icing.  The loaves can be prepared in advance and then frozen, to be cooked later.  One way to serve the bread is toasted with vanilla ice cream; then you can go completely off the deep end (it is Christmas, after all) by pairing it with a glass of a really good Madeira or Port. Oh. My. God.

red-fruit-of-the-Christmas-palm,-Longwood-GardensThe Christmas palm features this lovely red fruit.

NEXT: Recipe for Christmas Egg and Cheddar Soufflé

Christmas-casseroleChristmas Egg and Cheddar Soufflé

This Christmas casserole is tasty, easy to make, and can be assembled before Christmas morning. Enjoy!

1 lb. grated white cheddar

½ lb. sausage, cooked and drained

½ lb. good quality bacon, cooked and drained

Half a baguette of bread, cubed

9 eggs, beaten

3 cups whole milk

1 tsp. salt

1 ½ tsp. dry mustard

Spread the first four ingredients in a greased 9×13 baking dish. Pour the next four ingredients on top and refrigerate overnight. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-50 minutes and allow to rest ten minutes before serving.  Serves 6-8.

snow,-pot,-stone-wall-and-Xmas-garland There is nothing like a white Christmas to make the outdoor decoration look their best.

Earlier today I took Cosimo for a long Christmas walk around a pond not far from our house, despite the mounting accumulation of snow.  The only color in the landscape (other than the cheerful Christmas lights everywhere) was the startling red of the holly berries and an occasional fly-by of our resident pair of cardinals. Which reminds me that, as the house grew quiet tonight and we were growing sleepy in front of the fire in our bedroom, we could hear our vigilant neighborhood owl outside, hooting a friendly Merry Christmas to all.

Glorious Christmas is upon us at last. Best wishes to you and yours, for the holiday season and for the New Year from The Garden Interior.

David Jensen writes the popular American blog “The Garden Interior,” which chronicles his garden in southern New Jersey. Please visit at www.TheGardenInterior.com. You can follow David Jensen on Twitter at @GardenInterior.