Monday, December 5, 2011

Twelve dishes on Christmas Eve

Before we begin preparing for a Polish Christmas, you should know that unlike in most other countries, the big celebratory meal happens not on Christmas Day, but Christmas Eve.

We spend all day preparing. As the sun sets, which is usually around four or five pm at this time of year, the youngest child will look out of the window and try to spot the First Star. Its appearance is a sign that Christmas Eve has begun.

The dinner is a meatless meal- the only animal products on the table are fish, as the Eve is considered a day of fast. Thus, tradition also sets us a test of willpower- the Eve Dinner is all the more anticipated for being the first meal of the day.

Try spending the day in the kitchen without nibbling and snacking! But you should resist and save space in your tummy, because the traditional Polish Christmas Eve dinner consists of no fewer than twelve dishes.

358/365: Christmas Eve table
Hay on top or under the Christmas tablecloth represents the manger.

There is no fixed menu, but there are certain dishes without which Christmas just isn't Christmas. To do it Polish-style, you will definitely need to serve some of the following:

pierogi (dumplings) with cabbage and/or mushroom filling
barszcz (red beet soup) with uszka (small pierogis filled with mushrooms)
carp (battered, fried or baked)
herring (in cream or in oil)
mushroom soup (not portobello- forest mushrooms!)
dried fruit kompot (a bittersweet type of drink with fruit chunks at the bottom)
chałka (sweet challah, the Jewish bread)

...and an assortment of cakes, cookies, and gingerbreads.

You can cheat a little bit- pierogies with mushrooms and pierogies with sauerkraut count as two dishes. Similarly, the uszka in your barszcz are served on a separate platter and also count as a separate dish.

Needless to say, this is not a meal you can prepare the night before. Best to spread it out over the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Today being the 5th of December, we have a bit of time left to go. Let's start with something simple that will keep well and can be stored until Christmas, such as a nice batch of :

349/365: Christmas Cookies

Kruche Ciasteczka (Shortcrust Cookies)

500 grams of flour
250 grams of butter or cooking margarine
150 grams of powdered sugar
3 egg yolks

1. Cut the butter into smaller pieces, then chop the flour and butter together in a large bowl until the mixture has the consistency of breadcrumbs.

2. Add the sugar and the egg yolks. Mix well, first with a spoon, if you like, then start folding with your hands. If you feel the dough is too dry, you can add a little cream. Remember that this dough is meant to be rolled out and cut with cookie cutters, so it can't be too wet or too sticky.

3.Wrap the dough ball in cellophane and stick it into the fridge for half an hour.

4. Roll out the dough, cut the cookies, and bake at about 160˚ C (320˚ F) until golden. It doesn't take long, so be careful not to burn them.

Once they're done and cool, sprinkle the cookies with powdered sugar and put in an airtight container. One batch will probably not be enough, especially once your family finds the container and starts helping themselves to 'just a couple of cookies...' Be prepared to bake these several more times before Christmas arrives.

That's it for today. Tomorrow, on the feast of St. Nicholas, I will tell you a bit more about what happens on Christmas Eve, and we will prepare the beets for the barszcz. Did you know that in order to make a truly authentic Polish barszcz, you need to start cooking at least one week before you plan to serve it?

Just something you can brag about at your Christmas table. See you tomorrow!

1 comment:

  1. I miss my polish Daddy so much this time of year. My earliest memory is my mom,(Louisiana born, New Jersey reborn, Polish by marriage) preparing all the wonderful things we ate at Christmas. Ga-wump-kee, sorry I cant spell that. Bobka, a yummy rum covered bread, Of course my favorite, pierogies, both fried and sauteed with butter and onion. Always Kielbasa. I miss this one decadent feast more than any other holiday. I miss both my parents just a tiny bit more.