My grandmother had a rather spectacular recipe book. It doesn’t look like much – a battered exercise book with the cover torn off – but it contains magic. All the family recipes are in there, and although she died when I was very small, I feel that I know her little through the Baumtorte, the Apfel Kuchen and the Sachertorte recipes.
Here are her Vanilla Crescents. I loved rolling these out as a child and coating them in sugar. They make me long for evenings in front of the fire, licking sugar crystals off my fingers.
6 oz flour
2 oz semolina
4 oz softened butter
3 oz vanilla sugar (2 for cooking, 1 for dusting)
drop of almost essence
Mix the ingredients together in a bowl until a rough dough is made. Then, with your fingers, roll out small sausage-shaped pieces and pinch them into crescents. Place them on oiled grease-proof paper and put onto a baking tray.
My mother and grandmother always keep a jar of vanilla sugar in the larder for making cakes and desserts. All you do is put one or two vanilla pods into a sealed container of caster sugar and leave it there. Every six months or whenever the pod begins to lose its potency, replace it with a fresh one.
Bake in a moderate oven for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.
I love winter. There is something about the cold weather that makes me want to sit by the fire and write. It’s too cold to venture out to the winter house across the ice-field terrace and arctic lawn, but Mr S has the woodburner blazing. I also love the seasonal food. Slow cooked stews, stroganov with cardamon rice, and most of all the cakes. This is the time of my grandmother’s sugar dusted vanilla crescents, marzipan stollen, gingerbread and the legendary Pffefferkuchen.
Christmas is marked each year by the search for the lost Pfefferkuchen. This is a chewy biscuit made with mixed peel, mixed spice, chopped nuts, sugar and egg whites, which my grandmother and her sisters used to make. Unfortunately, the recipe was recorded in my grandmother’s usual haphazard fashion: ‘chop sufficient nuts and fruit, cook in an oven that’s hot enough, until they’re done.’ No one is left who can remember the precise proportions so every December my mother, sister and I try to make the perfect Pfefferkuchen – ‘less sugar’, ‘just bash the nuts’ – and every year we fail. Inevitably our biscuits don’t rise, the texture is all wrong, and yet our quest for the lost Pfefferkuchen has become a memory in itself. Hmm. I’m getting hungry. I think it’s time for elevenses and perhaps a slice of stollen.
This is the teapot that I really want to pour my tea from. It was made my Polly at Hodder.
mr rosenblum teapot
And from the back…
Meet Jack Rosenblum
Sorry for the silence. Mr S and I went to Wales for a smalliday – (like a holiday, only smaller). It didn’t rain, horray! and we ate tea and cake and scones every day. Again, horray. I made the decision before we left to leave Fred behind. Our friends Laura and Miles came to stay for the weekend, and I kept dithering – should I take Fred, will she be alright without me? Will my neighbour remember to water her – oh wait, no that’ s the pot plant in the kitchen. So, Fred stayed at home. And I pined.
Mr S and I walked along the most striking beach in Pembrokeshire, very near to Dylan Thomas’ boathouse/ writing shed. When the tide went out it left a vast, empty stretch of sand and I paced up and down listening to the roar of the sea and thinking about Fred. My dreams were full of saltwater and my fingers are itching to start writing again.
On more important issues. I baked cupcakes. I baked them to simultaneously impress Miles and Laura with my domestic prowess (usually pretty dodgy, just ask my mother) and also to use up those pesky adverbs/ adjectives. You know, as writers we’re always told to go carefully on them, like chef’s with the cayenne pepper, and it seemed like a good use for them. I hate to waste things. But, in the end there were insufficient ‘ly’ in the alphabet sweetie box and Mr S and I got rather carried away and decided to spell anything to do with writing and stories. I am sure you’ll agree that they are splendid. I am very proud of myself. The pity is there’s none left.