That wonderful time of year

From the chef’s kitchen:

KOURAMBIETHES (Greek Almond Christmas Cookies)

Material

30 grams of nuts
125 g unsalted butter (soft)
120 grams of icing sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon brandy
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
180 grams of cake flour
1 g baking powder

Method

* Preheat the oven to 180’C.

* Blanch the nuts in hot water for 10 minutes. Remove the skins and spread on a baking sheet. Bake, stirring occasionally, until lightly toasted, for 10 minutes. Remove from oven; Cool, then cut into thick slices.

* Beat the butter in a large bowl with a medium-high speed electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add half of the icing sugar; Continue beating for three minutes. Add egg yolks, brandy and vanilla; Beat until smooth. Mix the nuts, flour and baking powder well. (If the flour is too soft, add flour for a softer texture.) Size a table spoon full of flour in small crescents.

* Bake for about 15 minutes until set and on a very pale golden colored baking sheet. Remove the cookies and place in a cooling rack.

* Dust the cookies with the remaining icing sugar while still hot. Repeat twice. Store in airtight containers until Christmas.

My first Christmas memory was to bring a small tree for the house and decorate it in foggy Delhi December. At home, we were all encouraged to celebrate the festival, and which child would not like to make a tree with all kinds of decorations? We didn’t do much Christmas cooking at home, but several of our Christian family friends came with Saltpeter beef and pudding, so food was always a big part of the celebration.

While I was studying and working in New York, the whole city was filled with a sense of camaraderie during Christmas. There, the Christmas spirit is something that you can feel all around you. The Salvation Army has huge Christmas trees at Santas and Rockefeller centers. Everyone takes the time to greet people, something unusual for New Yorkers! The restaurants I worked at would go crazy, pour festive delicacies and send complimentary items to every table.

One year, I spent my vacation with some Greek friends, and it was incredible. Here were these giant mosaic and special Christmas almond cookies called courambithes and many more dishes including mulled wine. I was lucky to spend another Christmas with an Irish-Korean family in Connecticut. There, the food was an interesting blend, which was fortified by plenty of whiskey.

I think this kind of exposure has affected my Christmas cooking method. At Olive in Bangalore, we always try and try to make Christmas more than just a big spread of food and wine. Basically, we try and recreate the friendship that is so popular in the West. All of this lasts until the new year, so it’s about 20 days of celebration. In that sense, I love Christmas in Bangalore; There are four large churches around Olive and, on holidays, you can see families walking in and out of the church, exchanging greetings and hugging. You can actually feel the exhilaration in the air.

We are having a special Anglo-Indian menu at Monkey Bar for the first time this year and we have already received a great response from the Bangalore community as well as East Indian Christian families. I am lucky to have found these old books, a repository of Anglo-Indian recipes, owned by a Bengali family who collects old books. We picked some cherry recipes from there (yes, I returned the books). Not to compromise with Anglo-Indian food culture; Rather, I like to think of it as the first successful example of fusion cooking.

(Called Shantanu David)
Manu Chandra Executive Chef, Olive Beach, Bangalore and Partners and Executive Chef, Monkey Bar and The Fatty Bao.

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