World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Category: Traditions

Cranberry Sauce Making

Cranberry sauce making with friends: 1 pound fresh cranberries, 1 1\2 cups sugar, 1/2 cup cider. Combine in pot on low-med heat. Stir. Cranberries will burst takes about 12-15 minutes. Makes about a pint.

Cranberry Sauce Making

The Baker’s Passport – Scotland


Christmas is here. Or so every commercial entity would have you believe. On November 1st I saw the first Christmas tree in the lobby of a movie theater in the City. Really could we at least let the Halloween candy digest? But what it does make me think about is buttery, crisp and crumbly shortbread. To me it is a purely seasonal cookie.

Walkers_petticoat_2 My go-to is the popular export from Scotland, Walkers. While the bars and circle shaped biscuits are popular the long-standing petticoat tails has long been been a curiosity.  While Mary Queen of Scots was fond of these and there’s a long history between the Scotland and France  one version says the name comes from the French petit gatelles meaning little cakes; it is generally thought that the name has its origin in the shape, which is similiar to that of the bell-hoop petticoats worn by women in the nineteenth century courts.

Originating from the oatmeal bannock that was served at pagan Yule time celebrations,  the round bannock was often scored in the center with a circle surrounded by wedges symbolizing the sun and its rays. This practice most likely originating from the Scottish New Year’s event called, Hogmanay. This shortbread varies in that it is often larger and a little thicker and decorated with candied citron peel and some almond comfits. In the Shetland and Orkney Islands it is found as Bride’s Bonn and has caraway seeds. Another bit of folklore and the superstitious share that shortbread was not cut into portions but rather broken into pieces by hand. Today we’re less bound by these traditions and find them in many shapes and sizes.

Needless to say many of us eat shortbread year round as it’s a perfect pairing with tea, coffee or hot cocoa. While many recipes are handed down within families the secret to many a baker’s prized recipe is simplicity. By seeking out simple, high quality ingredients and a very short ingredient list at that the cookie essentials shine. Recipes vary with an increase of the ratio of flour to powdered sugar and in some the the addition of corn starch or vanilla. The texture of shortbread in the following recipe can be altered by replacing 1/4 cup of the flour with rice flour giving them a more crunchy texture. Or, if you prefer a more delicate tasting shortbread that melts-in-your-mouth, replace 1/2 cup of the flour with cornstarch.

Once you have this recipe in your repertoire you can move on to Millionaire’s Shortbread which is like an uptown Twix Bar.

Simple Shortbread

Traditional shortbread recipes don’t usually add salt but do use salted butter it enhances the overall taste.

1 cup softened butter

½ cup powdered sugar

2 cups flour

Pinch of Salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Beat butter and sugar together in a large bowl.

Stir in flour and salt. Mix with hands until smooth.

Spray a 9-inch fluted tart pan or a 9" square pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

Press dough into pan. Using the tines of a fork, score dough from the edge of the circle in the center towards the edge of the pan into 12 equal wedges or squares (depending on type of pan you are using.

Bake the shortbread in the middle of the oven 25 minutes or until slightly brown around edges.

Remove from oven. Immediately cut into squares/wedges with a sharp knife

Cool on tea towel and store between waxed paper in a cookie jar.


  • For a brown sugar version substitute the powdered sugar in equal portion for brown sugar
  • For chocolate shortbread add 1/3 cup cocoa to the flour step.
  • Along with 1 tsp vanilla extract add one of the following options:
  • Grated zest of citrus: either 2 limes or 2 lemons or 2 oranges
  • Mix in- 1/2 cup mini chocolate

The Baker’s Passport – Iceland


Lent in many countries is filled with many wide and varied cultural traditions.  Historically, as well, Lent is a period of fasting.  As such many countries this time is also wrapped around food celebrations just before the 40-day fasting period begins with the idea being that you are strengthening yourself for the long days ahead.  Today the idea of fasting is not a common one so these food rituals have been re-envisioned over time sometimes in a more celebratory coloring. In Iceland, two days before the beginning of Lent, homes, restaurants and bakeries overflow with delicately-made cream puffs or buns. These buns, similar to a cream-filled chocolate eclair, come in all different shapes and sizes, filled with cream or jam and sometimes drizzled in melted chocolate.   

Children "earn" their share of buns by "beating" their parents out of bed.  This is done with their made-at-school bolludagsvöndur  (bun wands), that are colorfully decorated with strips of paper and shiny ribbon. Parents are then obligated to give their children one  rjomabolla or cream puff for every "blow" received.  It is thought that this custom is derived from acts of penance performed during Lent, evolving over time into a lighthearted children’s game.

The custom of "bun day" came to Iceland from either Sweden, Denmark or Norway in the nineteenth century.  These countries also have their Lenten bun specialties. In Sweden, the smela is descended from the German and Danish kumminkringlor, a pretzel-shaped bread with cumin, which came to southern Sweden during the 1600’s when the area was under Denmark’s rule. The pastry tradition varies some between each of these Nordic countries. In both Finland and Sweden, semla, is prepared with a filling of marzipan and whipped cream, lots and lots of whipped cream. In Norway, it is called a Fastelavnsboller or Shrovetide bun.

King Frederick of Sweden loved his semla. He was done in (d. 1774) by 14 servings of this dessert (which was preceded by a grand feast) and soon died of indigestion. During this  period the buns were boiled in milk which gave way in the 19th century to the addition of sugar and cinnamon. Before the evolutionary jump to today’s indulgence, consisting of a cardamom-spiced wheat flour bun and a filling of the pastry as bread crumbs, milk and marzipan. It is then capped off with the top and finished with whipped cream. Traditionally it was served with a bowl of hot milk or most likely today with coffee.

Buns made of melted butter, flour, eggs and water and filled with cream are the traditional cream puffs and the most popular ones.  Other varieties include cream puffs with strawberries, blackcurrant, fresh fruit or  Daim chocolate. Meat balls and fish balls are also popular on this day. In fact Medieval Icelandic law texts say it is just fine to eat a double portion on the Monday and Tuesday preceding Lent. Much of the bun eating now, however, takes place on Sunday, however, since Monday is a work day. During this time Icelandic bakers estimate they sell one million buns.  This figure averages out to just about buns for every Icelander.

The two most common types of buns now are yeast buns, which make up 70 to 80 percent of the bakery buns, and choux-like pastry buns (cream puffs), but other types are also baked. In the first half of the twentieth century, the buns were usually made from cake dough. Often a jólakaka (Christmas cake) recipe was used, perhaps with an extra egg or two added, and the raisins left out. Deep-fried donuts called ástarpungar (Love Balls) are also served on Bun Day.

Needless to say folks are particular and passionate about semla.  I’ve included a cartoon from Mostly About Food below along with the comments of an expert enthusiast on this pastry:

"The bun itself should be a light golden brown and about 10cm across. The ‘lid’ is preferably triangular and properly sprinkled with powdered sugar. It should sit squarely on its cream bed. The whipped cream shouldn’t overspill the edges and should rise 2-3 cm – just so your nose doesn’t dip when eating…the bread mustn’t be too dense and should be lightly sweetened. The whipped cream ought to be hand-whipped and lightly sweetened as well."


Immediately after this Icelandic bun bonanza comes Shrove Tuesday, called sprengidagur, or Bursting Day.  This is day is filled with bowls and bowls of  salted lamb and split pea soup eat as much as possible, until you are about to burst.


If you’ve prepared pâte à choux before you will find this recipe familiar.

1 cup (8 ounces) water

1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 heaping cup (4 1/2 ounces) AP flour

4 large eggs

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.

In a medium-sized saucepan, bring the water to a boil, add the butter and salt, and stir until melted. Add the flour to the water/butter mixture and stir well until the dough pulls away from the sides of the pan. Let this mixture cool for about 5 minutes, in order that the eggs won’t cook as you add them. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each one until completely integrated with the dough and the mixture is smooth rather than shiny looking.

Using a cookie scoop or two spoons (a teaspoon or tablespoon depending on how large you want your puffs), place a good spoonful of dough onto a parchment-covered baking sheet. You can get about 12 large spoonfuls to a sheet. This recipe will make about a dozen and a half if you’re using tablespoons, each enough for one good-sized serving.

Bake the puffs for 25 to 30 minutes depending on the size. Do not open the oven during the first 15 to 20 minutes, or the puffs may collapse.

While the puffs bake, prepare the filing. (see below)

After the puffs are baked, remove them from the oven and turn the oven off. Make a slit in the bottom of each puff with a knife, and turn them upside down on the baking sheet. Return them to the oven with the door cracked open and leave them for about 5 minutes. This allows the steam to escape so they won’t get soggy as they cool.

To fill, cut the puffs in half horizontally. When all are filled and topped off pour glaze over each one.


1 pint heavy cream, whipped

1 tsp or more almond extract (or lemon or vanilla)

1 tsp granulated sugar

Whip heavy cream with sugar.  As it nears whipped cream consistency add extract of your choice


In double boiler over hot, not boiling, water, heat 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate pieces with 1 tbsp butter or margarine, 1-1/2 tsp milk, and 1-1/2 tsp light corn syrup until smooth, stirring occasionally.

It’s Burns Night, Bring on the Haggis


"Haggis have all got the best of ingredients."

James Pirie, Scotland’s Oldest Butcher & Winner of 2005 Haggis Championship

Poet, and one might have to suppose, a bon vivant of his day in Scotland. Robert Burns’ birthday revolves around drinking whiskey, eating haggis, reciting poetry and singing a few songs. Today is Burns Night celebrating the bard’s birthday, and it is enjoyed by millions of people around the world who salute the ”immortal memory” with haggis, pipes, whiskey and women.

The evening usually begins with whiskey cocktails bearing such odd names as Rusty Nail, Scotch Buck, Scottish Sunset or a Scottish Cobbler.  Following this start a traditional Burns Supper can be divided up into three parts. This traditional order of events is known as the Bill o’ Fare. 

  • Food (including the Address to the Haggis)
  • The ‘Immortal Memory’ (a fun, witty speech, referencing Burns– his life and work)
  • Various songs, readings and music to end the night

As to the food the first course is a soup, usually Cock-a-leekie or Cullen Skink.  But the central focus comes with the main course of Haggis with Champit Tatties and Bashed Neeps (mashed potatoes and turnips),  beginning with the Haggis Ceremony. This is arguably the best part of the night. Everyone stands, and the chef carries the haggis high on a platter from the kitchen, accompanied by a bagpiper (or fiddler). Everyone, including the piper, is poured a whiskey and raises their glasses in a toast to the haggis, saying ‘Slainte mhath’, pronounced ‘slan-je va’ and meaning ‘your good health’. The host or a guest then reads the poem To a Haggis.

Haggis is, the national dish of Scotland.  It tastes and looks a bit, so I’m told, like a boudin  but instead of rice there is oats, or perhaps somewhat more like a Cajun dish called paunce, which is stuffed pork stomach.  I’ve also heard it’s similar to scrapple. Haggis is under examination these days for possibly contributing to obesity in children.

Surprisingly, after all this drinking and eating a traditional dessert is served which is a sherry trifle called a Typsy Laird occasionally a popular pudding called Cranachan, made of oatmeal, fruit, cream and whiskey served with shortbread.

Vote with Your Fork

Nogmo On my list of things to do this weekend was to catch up on the news of Slow Food’s Terra Madre event.  Well, Julia at Mariquita Farms has done such a great job.  As a thank-you I’ll put in a plug for their husband Farmer Andy Griffin’s free bi-weekly newsletter.  They started the newsletter in 1999 because "we saw a demand for information about where and how food is produced, especially sustainably-grown food."   I’ll just add the link for Alice Waters Speech.

Along the same theme on Thursday night a few friends(J&J and H) and I went to a benefit opening of the documentary, The Future of Food (there’s a trailer available). It was a great San Francisco eco-food event to benefit Slow Food.  There was a mix of organic farmers, local chefs, food journalists, activists and foodies.  I was loving the names that were popping up in conversations around me, "I’m working with Traci (Des Jardin)…well, when Thomas (Keller) did "the book" I was asked to prepare the pate de choux dessert…there’s Alice (Waters), oh look there’s Nigel (Eatwell) and Michael Pollan…on and on it went. The film finally started albeit late.  The film is the work of Deborah Koons Garcia (yes, Jerry’s wife) and is all about GMO (genetically modified organism) foods.  It’s educational, compelling and inspiring.  Know what you eat and vote with your fork.  And yes, see the film–in San Francisco it’s at the Roxie. For more background on GMOs read this perspective over at Organic Gardening.   What a great evening that could only happen here in The City by the bay.

Aztec Gold


One of Mexico’s gifts to the world is chocolate.

Today Mexican chocolate is made from dark, bitter chocolate mixed with sugar, cinnamon, and sometimes nuts. The end result of cooking with this type of chocolate is a “grainy” less smooth product.

The Aztec people made a wide range of drinks from chocolate combining it with honey, nuts, seeds, and spices. Chocolate was so valued it was used by the Aztecs as both a food and currency.

During the Day of the Dead festival many a soul of the living is warmed during the long nights in the cemetery with a cup of chocolate. There are many variations to the drinking of chocolate in Mexico.

Atole (ah-toh-lay) is a warm, thick drink made dense with masa or more commonly today cornmeal. It is usually served with tamales. The chocolate-flavored version of this drink is called champurrado. This drink is a bit like hot chocolate but thickened with masa and flavored with piloncillo and aniseeds. The consistency of this pre-Hispanic beverage is similar to porridge. It is also served as a dessert with churros or with pan de muertos. The drinks are whipped together using a wooden whisk called a molinillo (moh-lin-nyee-oh) although a blender will do. Agua de chocolateis Mexican hot chocolate that is made by frothing together warmed milk or water with a disk of cinnamon-laced chocolate.

Tejate is a pre-Hispanic Oaxacan specialty. Said to have been drunk by Zapotec kings it is refreshing, invigorating, aphrodisiacal, and medicinal; it is a cold drink made of dark chocolate, toasted corn, cacao, cinnamon, and the seeds and the pit of a fruit called mamey. It is surprisingly tasty.

Most of us like chocolate cake. This recipe from Rosa Mexicano, home to great fresh-pomegranate margaritas is a Mexican twist on chocolate cake.

Photo credit: Freshly ground chocolate on the metate, Oaxaca. {JBrophy (me)}

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Glykismata-Greek Desserts


As I look back on my marathon of Greek culinary exploration I realize that there are no sweets present. Every culture has something sweet to indulge or celebrate the holidays or special occasions.

When I think of Greek desserts I think of that flaky treat baklava. I’ll be writing more about that in the next few days. I’m determined to take on the first time challenge of homemade Greek pastry using this baking component.

Clarified butter is frequently used in Greek baking as this imparts a rich, nutty flavor. Olive oil is often used with savory pastries or used as it is here in the following recipe where it is featured in this delicious olive cookie. This baked treat originates from the island of Lefkada, where they are known as ladokoulouro.

Often a lemon-honey syrup is used to dress many Greek desserts after baking. In classical mythology, the golden syrup was said to be food for the gods; adding lemon juice to the honey prevents it from crystallizing.

Fruit, such as oranges or figs, sometimes served with yogurt is often served at the end of a Greek meal. More elaborate desserts are an afternoon treat or a gesture of hospitality.

The most illuminating tidbit I learned was that Greek havlas, a semolina and almond cake, differs from that in Middle Eastern countries where it is a confection from sesame seeds and honey.

The Complete Book of Greek Cooking has been a great discovery during this Greek culinary odyssey here at World on a Plate. This book assembled by the members of the Recipe Club of St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral in New York is charming and full of explanations on culinary and cultural traditions. Favorites such as creamy rizogalo (rice pudding), karithopita (Kefalonian walnut cake), galaktoboureko(custard in a crispy phyllo pastry shell) are featured.

If you want immediate virtual gratification there’s a number of recipes provided over at Greek Boston , the Boston Greek online community forum.

Photo credit of Dionysus:


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