January 6th, 2006

Jin Shei Cover from sgreer

It's Christmas Eve

Heh. That got you.

But it is, really. The Orthodox church uses the *old* calendar, and that means everything is offset - and I am nominally Orthodox, having been baptised in an Orthodox cathedral, and therefore it's Christmas all over again for me tomorrow morning.

No, I don't get two sets of presents. But it's kind of nice. I have a kind of general present-opening Christmas morning on the same day as everybody else gets to tear the wrapping paper off their parcels, and then I have a quieter, less loud, more spiritual if you like version of it two weeks later.

There are traditions. Of course there are. BUt many of them have long been left behind as the younger generations left the land to go to the cities and taking straw into the house on Christmas Day, for instance, to recall the stable in which the Christ CHild was born, is not really practical any more. The thing we still do, when we can find the phyllo pastry, is make a special Christmas delicacy (I'll post the recipe if anyone is interested) and the tradition used to be that a special "family treasure" gold coin used to be tossed into it somewhere over the cook's shoulder and then covered with another layer of pastry and whoever found it on Christmas Day would have it ransomed by the head of the household, bought back as it were to stay in the family for next year's offering. Now it's just a coin, any coin. WHo's got gold coins to toss into cakes these days...? The kids used to compete to eat as many pieces of this cake as they could, but it is rich and sweet and you couldn't eat too many at a sitting because otherwise you'd just make yourself sick. SO you had to be judicious and canny in choosing your pieces. Of course, there were the family tales of woe and disaster, like the time my cousin's then-boyfriend took a bite of the cake and then sat there with bulging eyes until her could finally get the words out: "I SWALLOWED IT!" (Which would have been a catastrophe with the heirloom coin but under the circumstances it only resulted in much giggling and a deathless story to tell and retell for years after the boyfriend in question was history.) Or the time that an aunt bit into the cake and chipped a tooth on the coin which was just strategically enough placed to cause maximum damage.

I'm not making it this year, I don't have the pastry on hand, but maybe next year I will again. It's fun.

And merry Christmas, once more with feeling.
Jin Shei Cover from sgreer

Recipe: Cesnica

Pronounce that roughly like "Chess-nitsa".

There's two recipes, really - the out-and-out traditional one and the one for which you go and get store-bought phyllo pastry. If you want the traditional pastry, you need:

1kg white flour
3 tablespoons (softened) butter
a pinch of salt
about 500ml warm water

you cut up two tablespoons' worth of butter into the flour, put in your pinch of salt, and then knead first in a bowl and then on a countertop board until the pastry starts to fall off your fingers. Divide it into three equal balls.

NOW you need
150g raisins
200g ground walnuts
150g white sugar
2 packets of vanilla sugar (or use vanilla essence)

If you bought the phyllo pastry, what you do is you layer about two sheets at a time. If you've made the dough, then you roll out the first ball of dough until it's about the thickness of a knife-edge, and then cut it as many parts as will completely cover the bottom of a large cake pan. Repeat process as needed for the other two balls of dough. Lay the first layer of dough down into the bottom of the pan, and then - whichever pastry you've got - you do this:

drizzle the pastry using the remaining spoonful of melted butter.
sprinkle on some raisins
vanilla sugar or vanilla essence

cover with another layer of pastry.


somewhere in here you toss in your coin, over your shoulder, and then cover that layer with another pastry layer before you see where it landed. Then carry on layering. The top layer of pastry is not drizzled with anything, but only brushed with a thin glaze of beaten egg yolk. Bake until nicely golden brown.

In the meantime, heat one cup of honey until it's piping hot and liquid. When you take the cake out of the oven, pour the hot honey over it while still in the pan before you cut it, and let sit until the honey has had a chance to absorb in. Then cut the thing out from the pan leaving behind the baked-on edges, and serve it cut into squares - the size pan we use usually delivers about a dozen good-sized squares. DOn't make them too big, this is RICH.

WHoever finds the coin (oh, be CAREFUL! nibble, don't sink your teeth in and rip in like a lion into flesh...) will have good luck and happiness all year, and then the head of the house has to "buy it back" for a nominal sum so that the coin stays in the family for next year's cesnica.