Twelfth Night Approacheth…

When did you put the decorations up in 2020? A lot of our neighbours started early. I think I saw the first lights going up in late October, and there were definitely a few trees that stood proudly in bay windows, drowning in ornaments, from the first few weeks of November.

We actually decided to wait, and our decorations only went up around mid-December. This was also a very deliberate choice. 2020’s “Lockdown Christmas” needed all the help it could get to feel special, and I reasoned that if we waited as long as we could, we would have the thrill of anticipation, and it would all still feel quite special when Christmas Day rolled around. And I think it worked.

Then of course there is the question about when to take everything down again. Traditionally decorations are kept up until Twelfth Night, which can be either 5 or 6 January depending on whether you count the Twelve Days of Christmas as starting on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. In our house we side-step any bickering by taking them down on New Year’s Day. Maybe it is a sign of getting older that we are now up and about, with clear heads, early on 1 January. But it does also mean we start the New Year with a clean slate, the tree comes down, and suddenly the sitting room feels much bigger. I reckon that this year we also timed it just right – the tree still looked good, but another day or so and the needles would have been dropping all over the place.

In the midst of the lockdowns and social distancing (and the fact we in London are now going into our third lockdown in ten months…), I also overlooked the fact that this is the tenth instalment of my Twelve Days of Festive Baking. Number 10! That means that I’ve made a grand total of 120 recipes from various corners of the world. Goodness knows how much that must be in kilos of butter and sugar, or how many eggs were involved. And by now I’ve made a lot of the more well-known recipes, so each year gets more challenging and obscure. But then, that is a big part of the fun – trying new things and not really knowing how they will turn out or what they will (or should) taste like. It’s also fun hunting down some obscure ingredients. I know you can get a lot of them online, but I’m still analogue and like to find them in shops.

So a toast to my 2020 edition – a year we’re not madly keen on,  but at least if gave me the time to be at home and tackle some complex baking. I think we came up with a pretty wild and eclectic selection.

Finally, as I have done in previous years, I’ve matched the bakes to the original lyrics to the Twelve Days of Christmas to see if there is any sort of random correlation. So how did I compare to the carol?

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

…twelve Drummers Drumming (Greek Vasilopita)…
…eleven Pipers Piping (American Italian Rainbow Cookies)…
…ten Lords-a-Leaping (Norwegian Brune Pinner)…
…nine Ladies Dancing (Slovakian Oriešky)…
…eight Maids-a-Milking (Queen’s Cinnamon Stars)…
…seven Swans-a-Swimming (French Calissons)…
…six Geese-a-Laying (German Pulsnitzer Pfefferkuchen)…
…five Gold Rings (German Gebrannte Mandeln)…
…four Colly Birds (Norwegian Kakemenn)…
…three French Hens (Philippine Paciencias)…
…two Turtle Doves (Argentinean Alfajores)…
…and a Partridge in a Pear Tree (Italian Spongata di Natale)!

At a pinch, you could say that calissons recall elegant white swans, and that the gebrannte Mandeln are a rich, golden colour like the five rings, but that’s all a bit of a stretch. Overall though my favourites were the “Italian” Rainbow Cookies. Not as hard as I thought, and they tasted wonderful as well as looking utterly crazy. I’ll definitely make them again.

Now…time to think about recipes for 2021. Should I go for an “all-stars” edition (and reinterpret the most popular cookies from previous years), focus on cookies that are all about decoration and looks rather than traditional recipes, or hunt out another set of Twelve Festive Delights? Let me know what you think!


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7 responses to “Twelfth Night Approacheth…

  1. Christina Conte

    I think whatever you do will be spectacular! Loved your array of bakes, but am so surprised the Italian rainbow cookies were your favorite! I’ve never had them, but am often turned off by colored food. You’ve picqued my interest now! I didn’t even give those a second glance (sorry!) American Italian food has pushed me to my limits, so I can honestly say, I’m definitely looking through tainted glasses.

    Happy new year, and hope it’s much better than last, although we’re not off to a good start 😦

    • Thanks Christina. The reason I liked the rainbow cookies is that they reminded me of Dominosteine – they are German cookies with a gingerbread base, a layer of marzipan, then a layer jam, all coated in chocolate. I also made sure there was quite a lot of jam, and used a high-fruit brand. I also fortified it with a bit of Italian cherry liqueur, which might have helped!

      I agree on the colour – I think I’d skip that if I made them again, and leave them natural. Or perhaps make them using ground pistachios/matcha and powdered raspberries. There is a Martha Stewart recipe which ends up being more muted and looks quite sophisticated (here)

  2. Paul

    Always a highlight for Christmas!

    I’m not a huge baker but made your panettone recipe for several years. My bread machine is knackered but the kneed/rise cycle still works. I let mine rise in the fridge overnight and bake in the oven.

    Christmas breakfast for me is panettone and pigs in blankets!

  3. Emma

    Definitely in favour of more new ideas. Not that I’m trying to make you work p, or anything… Have you tried Croquantes de Cordes? I don’t remember seeing these in past lists.

    PS, made your lussebullar for St Lucy’s day this year. In over 40 years of yeast baking, that’s the best recipe I’ve ever made.

  4. Naomi

    Long overdue this reaction, but I wanted to let you know, that I love your 12 bakes of Christmas, every year (for so long!! Talk about stamina!) What I especially love is the occasional Dutch recipe that pops up. Dutck baking is not very known, but everytime you post one, it makes me reappreciate my own heritage! So again, a lot of appreciation from The Netherlands!!

    • Thanks Naomi, glad to hear you like the recipes. I’ve actually got quite a few Dutch baking books and there are some really interesting ones in there. Het Nederlands bakboek by Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra is great, as is Koekjesbijbel by Rutger van den Broek. Now looking for inspiration for Christmas 2021…I fear the day may come when I’ve made all the Christmas treats, and I need to start over again!

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