Christmas foods are made each year with much love, warmth, and nostalgia. It is a time of traditional dishes as richly varied and as pleasing as the people who have made them.
During the weeks before the festivities, kitchens are filled with the evocative smells of baking, and ingredients which would be an unthinkable extravagance at any other time of year are generously used.
Each of the recipes in The Christmas Cookbook, by Shona Crawford Poole (Atheneum, $6.95 paper) is a part of someone's Christmas celebration - whether it has been popular forever and has endless variations, or known only to a very small, remote region.
This is a useful collection of Christmas recipes, appropriate for family meals as well as Christmas parties.
A popular Christmas season fruit cake in Finland is Viikunakakku, a fig butter cake, aptly named for the flavors which give this particularly good cake its distinctive taste.
Fig Butter Cake
3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons grated orange rind
11/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup dried figs, chopped
1/2 cup seedless raisins, chopped
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped fine
2 tablespoons ground almonds or superfine granulated sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In large bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat together eggs and orange rind and beat them gradually into creamed butter, adding a little flour with the last few additions of egg to stop mixture from separating.
Sift together twice the flour and baking powder. Toss figs, raisins, and walnuts in about 2 tablespoons flour, then stir fruit and nuts into remaining flour and mix until well distributed. Fold fruit and flour mixture into creamed butter and egg mixture.
Spoon batter into ring mold, well-buttered and dusted with almonds or superfine granulated sugar. Bake in preheated oven 40 to 45 minutes. Cake is fully cooked when a warmed skewer plunged into the center comes out clean.
Let rest in pan about 10 minutes before turning onto a wire rack to cool. When completely cold, dust with confectioners' sugar. Serve in thin slices.
Almond crescents are a Christmas cookie popular in Germany. Czechoslovakia has a very similar almond cookie flavored with vanilla and called vanillekipfel, vanilla crescents.
Almond Crescents (Mandel-halbmonde)
1 cup sweet butter
1 cup superfine granulated sugar
4 hard-boiled egg yolks
2 raw egg yolks
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
3 cups flour, sifted
1 egg white
1/3 cup blanched blamonds, chopped fine
1/2 cup superfine granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In large bowl, cream butter, then beat in sugar a little at a time. Cream together until mixture is very pale and fluffy. Press hard-boiled egg yolks through a sieve with back of spoon into creamed mixture. Add raw egg yolks and lemon rind and mix well. Gradually beat in flour to form a firm dough.
To prepare frosting, beat egg white in small bowl until it will hold a firm peak. In another bowl mix almonds with sugar and cinnamon.
Shape small rolls of dough about 21/2 inches long into crescents. Dip each one into beaten egg white then into almond sugar.
Arrange on cookie sheets, lined with baking parchment, spaced well apart. and bake in preheated oven about 12 minutes or until cookies are firm to the touch. Transfer carefully to a wire rack. When cold, store in an airtight container.