Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Christmas stars

I'm not really much of a Christmas person. I tend to get a bit annoyed by Christmas songs playing everywhere from November onward, and I hate the idea of having to buy Christmas presents just for the sake of Christmas. And speaking of Christmas songs, how annoying is it they are all about that whole Jesus is born and blah blah blah. Seriously, can we get over that old bit of superstition please. People have enough reasons to kill each other without religion to add to all of that.

For the last few years I have pretty much ignored Christmas. I have outsourced Christmas shopping to my sister. I get her something she wants (I demand that she makes a wish-list), and she usually gets my mum's and dad's presents. And I have agreed with all my friends not to exchange Christmas presents. I can be persuaded to write a few Christmas cards, but that's pretty much it. If I had the money, I would fly away to the Bahamas and lie on the beach for all of Christmas. But that would break my mum's heart, so I won't. I will get on a over-full train to make my way down to an overcrowded Heathrow, stand in line for hours while sweating in my warmest winter coat, and then run like crazy to make my flight and sit next to sweaty, smelly people who like me have been stressing like crazy to make it onto the plane. And they call it a Holiday...

It's not that I have anything against Christmas per se. I just resent all the stress that comes with it. There has to be presents, even if no-one actually really needs anything, and you really can't afford any of that, but hey, if you don't buy loads of presents you don't really love your loved ones, right? And there has to be tons of food, to the point of it becoming a problem because there is so much to eat before it goes bad. And then you eat that damned Christmas food until New Year's because there just is too much of it. How about just getting away somewhere warm, lying on a beach, eating in a restaurant and actually spending time together with no presents and no left-over food and no stress? Maybe one day I get to do that. But until then, I will drag my heavy bag around from home to train, to another train, to the check-in desk and then again out from the next airport, all while sweating like crazy. What's not to love about that?

Obviously there are some good things about Christmas. Like not having to go to work for a whole two weeks! That is such a luxury. Unfortunately I do have a deadline for a book chapter coming up at the end of the year, but I'm doing my best to finish that before I fly home. I'm hatching an evil plan to not check my work email for the whole two weeks. That would be awesome. Right up to when I actually get back into work, and have to deal with two weeks of untouched emails. There are lots of crazy people in science who love their job so much that they work on all through Christmas, so I know there *will* be emails. 

So that should be enough of a moan for this time, and now on to the actual recipe. Which is not really a recipe at all. It's about putting jelly on puff pastry. But this is a traditional Finnish pre-Christmas pudding, so obviously I had to blog about it. I guess it's the Finnish equivalent to mince pies. Recreating this outside of Finland is a bit of a challenge though, as you need the right type of jelly (in Finland we call it marmelade). It is made from prunes, and there is something magic about it because it doesn't mind being baked in the oven. I don't think you can get any baking proof jellies over here, but I might be mistaken. So if you happen to be in Finland, pick up a jar or two of this thingy, which pretty much looks like... well... hmm.... black goo? You can even buy it online!

Me and best friend made a UK version of these pastries a few years ago by mixing canned prunes with plum marmelade. This mixture is not baking proof, so instead of making the pastries look like the ones I have in the picture, you need to make them into hand pies, and make sure you use a fork to seal the pies really tight. That gives you the right flavour, if not the traditional look. 

Other than the problem with the jelly/marmelade, these only take a second to make. They are nice to eat for dessert, or to enjoy with your afternoon coffee. Or for breakfast. Or in the evening with hot cocoa. Or mulled wine. 

Christmas stars:
puff pastry (all butter ready rolled is my favourite)
prune jelly 
1 egg 
icing sugar
The howto:
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. Roll out puff pastry to about 0.5 cm thickness if not using ready roll. Cut into squares, about 9x9 cm. Make cuts in every corner and turn every second corner to the centre to make a star shape. Use a fork to gently whip the egg and brush egg wash all over the pastries. Use two teaspoons to put a heaped teaspoon of marmelade into the centre of the stars. Bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until the puff pastry is golden. I prefer mine a bit underdone so that the pastry is still a bit gooey under the marmelade, but if you prefer your puff pastry flaky and dry, bake a bit longer. Dust with icing sugar right before serving.
The verdict:
This is a Finnish pre-Christmas classic. I just have to make them every year. Back home, frozen puff pastry is sold ready rolled into small rectangles, with four rectangles per pack. One rectangle makes two pastries, so I used to make a single woman's serving of two Christmas stars. This was super convenient, whereas in the UK, puff pastry is sold in huge blocks, so once you thaw it from frozen, you have to quite a big serving. I blame my weight gain on having too many of these pastries around. They are so addictive. They are best when still warm, but I have had no problem in disposing of leftover cold ones either. In fact, I would say the speed at which I am disposing of lefover ones, straight into my stomach, is much more of a problem. I think Christmastime is not Christmastime without these pastries!

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