Tag Archives: christmas

Souvenir Makes No. 4: A Swedish Christmas

26 Jan

Yes, I realise that, 3 months after returning from Scandinavia, I still haven’t finished blogging about it. However, I’m faring better than when I promised you I would post some articles about my Scottish road trip, and I didn’t complete the tale until 9 months later. My tardiness is slightly improving!

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Despite not completing my Scandinavian saga yet, I thought I would show you that my little Swedish dala horse cutter (which has already come in rather handy for festive baking) was put to very good use this Christmas – to make clay tree decorations.

The ubiquitous little wooden horses hail from the Swedish town of Dalarna, and are a national symbol which dates back to the 1600s. The most common dala horses are painted red, with a white, green, yellow and blue harness, but I read that you can find horses in a variety of colours, with each local area producing the wooden ornaments in their own special design.

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I had enough clay to make seven, and I decided to decorate each with a different pattern. I used a tiny star cutter, which I bought to use in my pottery classes, although I think it was originally a cake decorating tool. I was able to attach the stars carefully to the surface of the piece, using a paintbrush and a bit of slip.

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When the designs were finished, I used a dowelling rod to pierce a hole in the top of each one, so that I can thread ribbon through when they are finished. I left one of them sans piercing, as I am toying with the idea of starting a wall display of dala horses in my bedroom, and this is going to be the first one.

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Given that each horse was only half a centimetre thick, I expected they would dry fairly quickly… not so! I patiently waited 2 weeks before the items could be fired in the kiln – then I set to work on painting the little creatures.

I tried to keep the colours to the traditional palette of red, white, green, yellow and blue, although I found that the poppy red and dark, galaxy blue appealed to me the most! I think it’s fair to say that none of the horses conform to the traditional dala design, but I am happy with the way they have turned out – especially the ones with the raised stars across the surface.

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One of our family traditions is the giving of a set of baubles each year. My mum, my brother and I each give a bauble to each other, so that no matter where we are in the world, we have matching Christmas trees. Over the past few years, I have been making a bauble for each of them every year, as well as one for myself. This year, my new sister-in-law Kate got involved with the family tradition, making a beautiful set of perfect crochet snowflakes! I can see this tradition running for years!

Finally, I come to the bauble I made for myself. I really loved the star designs, but for my own bauble I wanted something that reminded me of my wonderful adventure. I’m sure you can guess which one that would be! I painted mine, simply, with a blue blackground and a solid yellow cross, to depict the Swedish flag. My flat is so small that I don’t actually have a Christmas tree, but you can see my Swedish dala creation, hanging proudly on my aloe vera plant in my living room. I can’t wait to, one day, have him adorn a beautiful Christmas tree, which I’m sure he will do for many years to come.

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Christmas Confectionery Cavalcade!

9 Jan

Some days at work are better than others…

A few weeks ago, I was informed by my manager that I would be taking the Eurostar to Brussels for the day, for a Conference. As I have never been on the Eurostar before, I was delighted at the prospect, and spent the preceding week before the trip, bouncing around the office like a kid at Christmas.

I have visited Brussels briefly, once before, when my lovely friend Charlotte and I were stranded there overnight after a disastrous Belgian music festival. We were tired and had tents and sleeping bags to carry, so had been in no mood for sightseeing – perhaps this trip would give me a chance to see the city in a different light!

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My excitement slightly wore off when I discovered how much of a flying visit my time in Brussels was going to be – we would have around an hour an a half to sightsee, and the rest of the time would be spent in meetings. Oh well, ninety minutes was better than nothing! I certainly didn’t waste my time, and used it to visit Brussels Old Town. The two things that the city is famed for (besides sprouts, of course) are chocolate and waffles, so I thought it was only right and proper that I sampled as many of these tasty treats as I could in the time I had.

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Delectable liqueur truffles and chocolate-covered cakes, biscuits and waffles…

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…adorable solid chocolate characters and exquisite fudges and caramels…

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….every imaginable chocolate-based spread, sauce and dip. I was in heaven!

Although my trip was short, my chocolate tasting inspired me to have a go at making some confectionery as gifts for Christmas this year. My creations may not be quite as classy as those I tried in the artisan confectionery boutiques of Brussels, but it’s the thought that counts!

I had been lucky enough to receive a book on making confectionery from my brother and sister-in-law for my birthday – Sweets Made Simple by Hope & Greenwood. Some of their recipes looked so mouthwatering that I nearly ate the pages! I decided to give some of their truffle and fudge recipes a try.

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Firstly, I tried making delicious, refreshing Gin and Lime truffles. The recipe was really easy to follow, and recommended chilling the mix, and then rolling into small balls and coating in cocoa powder. However, I found that the mix was a little too soft, so I opted to coat the balls of truffle mix in milk chocolate to make the truffles a bit more stable. This obviously involved melting large quantities of chocolate in a bain marie, and generally making a chocolatey mess. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta go it! to decorate the truffles, I finely grated a small amount of lime zest, and used it to garnish the top of each truffle before the chocolate set.

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After the success of the gin and lime treats, I attempted a second truffle recipe from the book. I tried the recipe for white chocolate and limoncello truffles, which I thought would be perfect as my brother Alex and his new wife Kate brought me some limoncello back from their honeymoon in Italy earlier in the year.

Again, I found the ganache a little too soft, so I painted tempered white chocolate into a confectionery mould, and painstakingly filled each chocolate cup and left it to cool, before sealing with a layer of white chocolate and popping out of the silicon tray.

The finished result was glossy, pyramid-shaped truffles, with a pleasing snap as you bit through the chocolate, to reveal a creamy, citrusy centre. Divine. Painting the moulds took a fair bit of time, but the finished confection was certainly worth it.

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For my last sweet treat, I decided to make a non-boozy option, for a change. A recipe in the Hope and Greenwood book had caught my eye – Black Forest Fudge. Well, with dark and white chocolate and the addition of morello cherries, what’s not to love?

It was my first time at making fudge, and I’m pleased to say, the result was really successful. I followed the instructions very carefully, using a sugar thermometer to remove the fudge mix from the boil when it hit 113 degrees exactly. I then combined the grated chocolate, poured into a silicon case, and liberally topped with halved morello cherries.

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I found that the first attempt was absolutely delicious, but a little too crumbly. However, on successive batches I got better at mixing the chocolate through thoroughly, easing the melted mix into the corners of the tray before it sets, and using a hot knife to cut the squares more neatly.

Ever reluctant to waste anything I have produced, I collected up the crumbs from the crumbly fudge and refrigerated them – perhaps I could use these as an ice cream topping, or better yet, maybe they could be churned into an ice cream of their own? I will make a note to try this as the weather warms up!

In sucessive batches, I also increased the quantity of cherries, as they were simply too delicious. My favourite thing about the fudge is that it’s sweet and creamy, but not too sickly – once you’ve had one square, it’s hard to resist another! So, next time you see me and I’ve gained a stone, blame the fudge.

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To complete the repertoire of Christmas edible treats, I bottled up some sloe gin (reprised from last year’s success) and also baked a few more batches of the Swedish sugar and spice cookies. Never let it be said that I would let friends and family go hungry (or sober) at Christmastime.

 

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