Christmas is coming and How to Eat is chewing over a mince pie.
But hot or cold? Brandy butter or cream? And does it matter which hand you eat it with?
Mince pies: don’t mess about with them. Photograph: Magdalena Bujak/Alamy Stock Photo
In 1733, the Gentleman’s Magazine carried a short reflection on mince pies – née Christmas pyes – that, among other observations, noted how puritanical Quakers swerved them on the basis that they are an “invention of the Scarlet Whore of Babylon, an Hodge-Podge of Superstition, Popery, the Devil and all his Works”.
Sounds exciting, right?
But, in 2018, the mince pie, lacks that transgressive edge.
We may buy a staggering 370m every Christmas but we also throw a shameful 74m away, indicative of how innocuous they now are.
Any tingle of forgive-me-father-for-I-have-wolfed-four excitement has gone.
Mince pies are mundane. We take them for granted.
Part of the problem is that most shop-bought mince pies are clumsily spiced, collapsing air-pockets of disappointment.
But this is a treat of diminishing returns for other reasons, too.
We routinely abuse the mince pie. We fail to treat it with reverence.
Which is why it is best to read on and learn how best to eat one of Britain’s favourite dishes.
To the naked eye Vitry-sur-Seine is just another suburb of Paris.
But the town of 86,000 has a little known secret.
It is home to over 100 of the top street artists in the world.
London was in the news this summer for putting a strict ban on this form of art but Vitry-sur-Seine actually ENCOURAGES their creative spirit allowing the artists to use the city as a canvas and bringing them in as faculty to teach workshops in the public schools.
Embracing art like a boss. Well done Vitry-sur-Seine’
The Adoration of the Kings – Jan Gossaerts (1510-15)
This colourful Christmas tree decoration of an altarpiece was painted for an abbey near Brussels and is evidently not intended to be ascetic.
The Magi who journeyed from the east to give gifts to the newborn Messiah gave wealthy people in Renaissance Europe reason to hope their riches made them virtuous.
Contrary to the early Christian message that it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter heaven, Gossaerts gratifies the rich by showing how they can use their treasures to adore Christ.
The superb deep blue of the sky, the reddish ruins in which Christ has been born and the green, pink, blue and gold robes of angels and mortals all add to a chromatic carol of joy and jubilation.•
It’s hard to believe that anything as jaw-droppingly futuristic could be 57 years old, but the lava lamp (or astro lamp as it was originally known) has been around that long.
Invented by a British accountant named Edward Craven -Walker in 1963, the lava lamp quickly became an icon of 1960s psychedelia, with news of the product spread by worth-of-mouth.
The lamps work by using a light bulb to heat a bottle containing coloured oil and water (and some other minor chemicals – but those are the main two). The oil and water have similar densities but are insoluble to one another, meaning they don’t mix.
When the bottle is heated the oil absorbs the heat first, expanding in size as it does so. The expansion means that it becomes less dense and begins floating upwards.
As it floats up it cools, contracts and falls back to the bottom of the bottle, starting the chain of events all over again.
This continual slow motion process is based around very slight differences in density between the oil and water – the balance between them is like a very sensitive pair of scales, with small amounts of heat tipping the balance back and forth.
Bizarrely, the assembly line robots who help the humans have come from Detroit’s collapsed motor industry.
An ambitious hobbyist, turned accomplished baker, turned cookbook author steps into her crafting niche by creating a decadent holiday castle.
Christine McConnell, expert baker and architecture-savvy aesthete, completes a massive, intricate gingerbread house. Putting in nearly 270 hours of work spread over 20 days, as well as pounds and pounds of icing, McConnell forms an edible chef d’ oeuvre without a single cardboard support in sight.
Fine-tuned with impeccable detail and realistic, epochal design, the creation towers over typical gingerbread houses with its castle-sized proportions and dark, romantic feel.
All of the ingredients required for the artistic creation include “simple stuff you can find at any grocery store,” McConnell shares. “This project was a huge undertaking for me.
I usually try to limit projects to two weeks, but I got so excited about this that I ended up getting a little carried away.”
“I love architecture,” she continues, “always have. When I was ten years old, I had a dream about a weird house and when I woke up, I had to build it out of cardboard and whatever else I could find, so I guess I’ve been fiddling with this sort of thing for a while.
”Photographs of her edible creations are frequently complimented by the artist wearing her own glamorous fashion designs and deft photo-editing. The artist’s claim to fame bridges many talents, but she’s best known for fashioning astonishing baked goods.
Take a closer look at the gingerbread castle and small accessories, like a chocolate-peppermint reindeer cake and tiny porcupine brownies, which give the composition a new degree of artistry.
McConnell recently released a book of creepy-cute treats accompanied by recipes, entitled Deceptive Desserts.
Christine McConnell shares her recipe for creating your own gingerbread castle in Food.com’s feature of her.
Use all cherries if you wish, but the tartness of the blueberries seems to amplify the flavour of the cherries.
The cornflour becomes invisible, but effectively thickens the juices. Serves 6.
For the pastry: plain flour 230g; butter 140g; icing sugar 50g; eggs 1 large yolk, plus another beaten to seal and glaze the pie.
For the filling: cherries 800g; blueberries 200g; cornflour 2 tbsp; lemon 1; caster sugar 100g (plus a little extra).
You will also need a wide-rimmed metal pie plate or tart tin measuring approximately 26cm in diameter (including rim).
Make the pastry: put the flour into the bowl of a food processor, add the butter cut into pieces and process until the ingredients resemble fine, fresh breadcrumbs.
Mix in the icing sugar and the egg yolk. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, then bring the dough together with your hands to form a smooth ball.
Wrap the dough in parchment or cling film and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Stone the cherries, put them in a mixing bowl then add the blueberries and the cornflour. Finely grate the lemon, add it to the cherries, then cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice. Sprinkle the juice over the fruit and add the sugar.
Tumble the fruit, cornflour, juice, zest and sugar together and set aside.
Place an empty baking sheet in the oven, then preheat to 200C/gas mark 6. Cut the pastry in half. Roll out one half to fit the base of the pie plate, then lower on to the pie plate, leaving any overhanging pastry in place.
Spoon the filling into the dish, leaving a bare rim of pastry around the edge. Brush the rim with a little beaten egg.
Roll out the remaining pastry and place it over the top of the tart, pressing firmly around the rim to seal. Trim the pastry.
Brush the surface with beaten egg, pierce a small hole in the middle to let out any steam, then sprinkle the pie lightly with caster sugar.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, on the heated baking sheet, until golden.
If you’re someone who can’t wait to plan Christmas every year, it’s never too early to start preparing the Caribbean holiday treat known as black cake.
To make this dessert, islanders soak dried fruit in rum and cherry brandy for up to a year before baking.
After British colonists introduced plum pudding (which is more like cake than it sounds) to Caribbean islands, locals adapted the recipe with available ingredients.
Black cake may be a far cry from the original pudding or its cousin, fruitcake, but it does include a combination of cherries, raisins, prunes, currants, and dates.
Where traditional fruitcake makers leave the pieces of soaked fruit intact, black cake bakers pulverize them into a sweet paste.
The finished product is a rich, smooth cake that may be iced, but more often stands alone.
Regional flavors punctuate the uniquely Caribbean confection. A combination of extracts, called “mixed essence,” adds notes of vanilla, almond, and pear (though on Trinidad, home of Angostura, recipes may use bitters and vanilla).
A homemade burnt-sugar syrup called “browning” contributes a caramel flavor. And the rum-soaked fruit offers a bit of bittersweetness.
The New York Times describes the resulting cake as “darker, deeper and altogether more absorbing” than its fruitcake relatives.
Families across the islands and their relatives in the United States—especially in New York—reserve baking and eating black cake for Christmas.
Whoever’s making black cake bakes only a few, so giving one is a deeply affectionate gesture. Someone devoted months of preparation and more than four hours of baking to each cake, along with lots of love, liquor, and expensive fruit.
Digging in should make you feel like a slice of the sweet itself—warm and more full of rum than you appear.Need to KnowSome Caribbean and West Indian establishments sell black cakes during the holiday season.
If you’d like to try your hand at making black cake, but don’t have year-old, booze-soaked fruit at home, fret not—many recipes say three days of soaking works just fine.
Photo: The combination of a well matured and baked dark fruit cake accompanied by slices of crumbly piquant cheese is a rare treat not to be missed.
The poor fruitcake has gotten a bad rap over the past few decades, and not just a cellophane wrap.
People misunderstand its booze-infused density and dank fruitiness, chalking up the decision to give such a gift as nothing more than a misguided antiquated ritual.
But Yorkshire natives will not be dissuaded from enjoying the holiday loaf and, furthermore, from topping the succulent slice with a thick layer of piquant cheese.
In England, a Christmas cake refers to the dried fruit–speckled, rum-soaked round that many other cultures simply call fruitcake. Ideally, the cake is made ahead of time—up to two months—allowing the ingredients to mellow and blend as they receive a regular dowsing of alcohol.
But how did cheese come to accompany the holiday treat?
According to food historian Peter Brears, the creative combo comes from the Victorian era, specifically in Wensleydale, Yorkshire.
Wensleydale is also home to an eponymous cow’s milk (formerly sheep’s milk) cheese that, at the time, was made only during the summer and reached maturity right around the Christmas season.
Folks found that the sharp and crumbly cheese—either perched atop or eaten alongside the cake—paired perfectly with the moist, rich baked good, and a tradition was born.
The Christmas custom has remained mostly a delight confined to Yorkshire, but has become very popular across the border in Scotland