Yes, yes, you don’t have to remind me… Christmas is merely a warm, fuzzy memory by April. The daffodils are out, the shops are flogging Easter eggs and people are beginning to plan their summer holidays. Christmas is soooo old news! But then again, this isn’t a news site, so let’s talk about the UK bloggers’ pre-Christmas cookie swap at Johanna’s.
After the roaring success of the Spanish-themed get-together at my place in November, Passionate Cook Johanna had kindly agreed to host something at her house in December. So on a rather chilly and dreary December afternoon, a host of bloggers from London and further afield descended on Johanna’s house for an afternoon of food, drink, photos and laughter. With Christmas fast approaching, it was decided that a festive theme would be appropriate, and what could be more festive than a cookie-swap? Just imagine – leave home with a tin of one type of cookie, come home with a tin containing at least half a dozen types of cookie! Perfect!!
Johanna’s house looked (and smelt!) deliciously Christmassy and by the time I arrived (rather late, due to unavoidable circumstances), the party was in full swing, as you can see. This was our first blogger gathering with not a single thorn amongst the roses!! Don’t know if Real Men Don’t Bake Cookies or what – but they certainly didn’t turn up in droves for this particular event ;-) From right to left, we have: Johanna’s friend Martina, Melissa, Cecile, Joanna, Zabeena, Melissa’s friend Wampe, Johanna (holding gorgeous Max!), and me. Jenni had also been there but unfortunately had to leave before I arrived. In fact, while we waited for the food to be ready, we sipped mulled wine and mulled cider (Johanna outdid herself!!) and nibbled on Jenni’s festive cheese stars – lovely little savoury treats and so adorable too!
Sadly, I had already missed the bratwurst and sauerkraut that Johanna had served earlier, but I am reliably told by the other bloggers that they were delicious. Just when the smells from the stove were getting unbearably delicious and nobody could wait a second longer, Johanna brought the main event to the table: a cheese fondue! My absolute favourite! Together with the big bubbling pot of
cholesterol calories cheese, Johanna also brought various smoked and cured meats, chunks of bread and little bowls of gherkins and pickled onions.
As always, trying to maintain some semblance of control over whatever is on the end of your fondue fork was an adventure in itself and much of the conversation was devoted to the different forfeits that are traditional in various countries for committing the cardinal sin of losing the contents of your fork somewhere in the cheesy depths! A quick aside here is the following cheese fondue hint: you should drink kirsch, beer or wine with yuor fondue (depending on what you put in it, of course). What you shodul NOT be drinking is water, particularly chilled water. Why? Well, think about the contents of a cheese fondue: It’s largely melted cheese. Now if you pour a glass of iced water on melted cheese it is likely to, well, reconstitute. Into solid cheese. So doing this in your stomach will result in your developing a "cheese baby" – you will feel pregnant from the large lump of newly-solidified cheese in your belly!! Not an appetising prospect. Please pass the kirsch!!
Once we scraped the fondue pot clean (just about!), the cookie tins were opened and everyone got to examine their contents. What can I say (except WOW!) – there was such a huge selection that everybody was bound to find something they loved! And best of all, once you’d eaten your fill over coffee at Johanna’s, you got to take home a selection of everybody else’s cookies! So we had Cecile’s coconut macaroons, Joanna’s huge sticky meringues with pistachios and dates (one of my faves), Zabeenas hazelnut macaroons, Johanna’s traditional hausfreunde and mandelboegen and absolutely delectable little choco-mocca "beans", Melissa’s blueberry shortcake biscuits, Martina’s vanilla crescents and my iced chocolate crunchies (see recipe below). Oh yes, and as if that wasn’t enough, Johanna also sent us all on our way with a fortifying shot of her home-made choco-mocca liqueur!
If anybody can think of a better way to get into the Christmas spirit, I’d like to hear it! Johanna – I think this may have to be a regular fixture on the UK blogger calendar…
As for my cookie contribution, here’s the low-down. Growing up in South Africa, the one cookie-tin constant that every child will remember is crunchies. They were usually one of the first things that your mom let you bake and kept forever in an airtight container, so we all grew up on crunchies. To me, they were distressingly unglamorous. I mean, who wants squares of oaty, healthy-looking stuff when you could be having swirly drop cookies topped with glace cherries?? But they certainly were a stalwart of every cookie tin that I remember growing up, so I thought they’d be appropriate. Instead of making the usual version though, I asked my friend Greg for some inspiration and he came up with the following recipe for chocolate crunchies, with glace icing, from an old church recipe book. Personally, I prefer these without the icing, but I guess it depends how much of a sweet tooth you have….
For the base:
1 cup flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup desiccated coconut
½ cup sugar
1 Tsp cocoa
1 tsp baking powder
Mix dry ingredients well. Melt butter and pour over dry ingredients, mixing well. Press into a baking sheet, leaving a 15 mm space all round, as mixture spreads. Bake for 30 minutes at 150 deg C. Cool.
For the icing:
1 cup icing sugar
1 tsp cocoa
few drops hot water.
Mix icing ingredients together. Do not make too runny and soft. Ice crunchies only when they have cooled, otherwise the icing soaks in and disappears. Allow to cool and set, and cut into squares or fingers.