The Twelve Days of Christmas

As has become something of a festive tradition, I have just finished my annual Twelve Days of Christmas Baking challenge. It always seems like a good idea, although the first year I did it, I found myself frantically rolling pastry, shaping truffles and cutting out shapes until early in the morning to get everything done by Christmas Day.

That was 2011, and by 2012, I was vowing to be more organised. Clearly the realities of daily life stopped that happening, as they also did this year. But it would not be Christmas without the annual culinary chaos. So let’s have a little peek back at what I wrote when I wrapped up the Twelve Days of Baking in 2012:

…for all my vowing to be more organised if I were to attempt the same challenge this year, 2012 has been just the same. I had all the best intentions in late November, yet still ended up in a rush on Christmas Eve. Heck, it’s like a tradition by now! I kept coming up against the practicalities of normal life – I only own one cooling tray, I kept running out of biscuits tins, the need to do all your pictures are the weekend because you work full-time…and as it turns out even my friends with the sweetest of sweet teeth have a point beyond which they can’t face any more cookies. Yes, I sit here surrounded by those bad boys, which I estimate should all finally be gone by the third week of January.

More likely than not, I will be doing this challenge again in 2013, but I do wonder if there is a need to change tactics. Maybe I need some savoury ideas in there? It’s a little more tricky, as savoury foods are reserved more for the Christmas Day meal, or involve cheeseboards. I’m not too sure anyone really wants to see a picture of a block of Stilton I picked up from a shop…but we’ll cross that one when we get to it! Or maybe Christmas cocktails are the solution? Hmmm….

As I read those words, the various feelings of being slightly barking do come back, but it just would not be Christmas if there were not constant aromas of spice, toasting nuts and baking biscuits coming from the kitchen for the best part of a month.

You might wonder why I do this? Well, I love to use cooking and baking as a way to get to know the culinary traditions of different countries and regions, and Christmas baking provides a fascinating window into local traditions. I find it most interesting that the same or similar ingredients pop up again and again, but they can be mixed up into so many different ways to make a stunning variety of baked goods. Of this series of twelve, the biggest success were the Panellets de Membrillo, which I put down to the fact that they are fairly unusual to British eyes (and tummies), as well as being gluten and lactose-free. My own favourite was the Estonian Kringel made with saffron and cardamom, which looked and tasted sensational. I’ve learned how to use a very elaborate iron to make Pizzelle, mastered making delicious glazed Elisenlebkuchen and discovered that when you make Swedish Pepparkakor, everyone loves the ones in the shape of an elk the most.

In case you’ve missed any of them, or just want to gaze on all the bakes one more time, here are the Twelve Days of Christmas Baking 2013:


In case you are wondering, here are the original lyrics from the Twelve Days of Christmas, with each of my recipes next to them. As you can see, there is absolutely no correlation whatsoever.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:

…twelve Drummers Drumming (twelve Ecclefechan butter tarts)…
…eleven Pipers Piping (Pepparkakor)…
…ten Lords-a-Leaping (Saffron Cardamom Kringel)…
…nine Ladies Dancing (Elisenlebkuchen)…
…eight Maids-a-Milking (Linzer Biscuits)…
…seven Swans-a-Swimming (Pizzelle)…
…six Geese-a-Laying (Ruiskakut)…
…five Gold Rings (Hálfmánar)…
…four Colly Birds (Panellets de Membrillo)…
…three French Hens (Giant Ginger Cookies)…
…two Turtle Doves (Janhagel)…
…and a Partridge in a Pear Tree (Chocolate Hazelnut Crinkles)!

So again, I hope that you have enjoyed this baking challenge! Obviously I will  be having another bash at this next Christmas. If you’ve got ideas, then do feel free to make a suggestion. Bonus points for unusual ingredients, strange shapes or elaborate methods of preparation.



Filed under Christmas, Sweet Things

15 responses to “The Twelve Days of Christmas

  1. Hi I write a food blog and I would love to link your blog to my post this week. Would this be ok?

  2. Paul

    Many thanks for your amazing baking Russell, I’ve really enjoyed them! As always your recipes and photos are wonderful. I have a similar interest in north European baking, having lived in The Netherlands as a student and being a semi-regular traveller to Norway and Sweden.

    Myself, I only made a Christmas pudding and a panettone (your recipe) – which failed to rise properly, but was still delicious toasted on xmas morning!.

    Keep up the good work and I hope you have a happy new year!

    • Hi Paul

      Happy New Year to you too!

      Glad you like the Nordic baking themes, and good to hear that you’re tried some of my recipes…but awful to hear that it didn’t work! I’ve used that recipe many times, so I’m pretty sure it should work. If it didn’t rise, it is worth checking the yeast is fresh. Otherwise, make sure you don’t use more butter and sugar than suggested in the recipe – once I thought I would make a richer version with loads of butter, and that one stayed fairly dense.

      • Paul

        Don’t worry, I have made your panettone recipe successfully a couple of times and it’s great. I think it was my old yeast (I’m a homebrewer so you’d think I’d know about yeast!). Still a very tasty xmas morning breakfast!

        A while ago I was on a train and I overheard a couple talking about how difficult panettone was to make. I was thinking ‘duh, you just plop the ingredients in the bread machine, let it do its thing and pop it in the oven’. Can’t be easier!

        Keep up the good work!

  3. Cynthia

    What a beautiful picture. I used to love Astrid Lindgren’s books and all her descriptions of the festive season with all its baking. So I love reading the Scandinavian recipes. Of course, you probably know that the twelfth day of Christmas is not until January 6th so maybe you could spread the stress by baking into the New Year? (Despite their new diets most people are bored, so they might be happier with your offerings?)

    • Hi Cynthia – yes, I also have a bit of a weakness for Scandinavian baking. In fact, a Danish friend has already made two suggestions for next year!

      You’re also completely correct that Twelfth Night is not until 6 January, but I like to get all my baking done by Christmas so that I can sit back and enjoy the festive period! Nothing like sitting on the sofa with endless cups of tea, Christmas biscuits and an endless series of films.

  4. Lovely photos of really gorgeous looking bakes! Well worth the drama! The Linzers look so pretty!

  5. I love this baking challenge. This is a perfect thing to do with family and friends over the holidays. These photos look outstanding. I would gain ten happy pounds if I took on this task next year. 🙂 Best – Shanna

    • Thanks Shanna – we just finished off the last of the biscuits at the weekend. It’s a fun challenge…but you need to make sure you have enough parties organised to get it all eaten!

  6. thanks so much for keeping up this wonderful tradition!!

  7. All these cookies are awesomely creative! 🙂

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