If you go to any supermarket in Czecho now, you will notice shoppers, especially women of all ages, shapes, class and persuasion, pushing trolleys piled high with flour, butter, cocoa, nuts, and lots of sugar. Why? Because it's time for baking. No matter how modern, stressed, low or high-flying, and no matter that every year they vow never to do it again, Czech women simply have to spend hours and days baking Christmas biscuits. It's a highly competitive sport: they compete how many different kinds of biscuits they'll make, and how delicious they are. Family recipes are kept secret, and exchanging them is a mark of the closest friendship and trust.
The biscuits have to be made this far in advance, because a/ they do take an inordinate amount of time, and b/ because they need to 'ripen' for at least a couple of weeks before they are eaten. They are stored in containers where they get a moist quality - quite different to the crispy kind of biscuit we like to crunch in Britain.
When it gets to Christmas and people visit their friends and relations, it is always with a container in hand - a ritual of tasting then ensues, comparing the hostess' biscuits with the visitor's, and counting the many varieties on offer, with much oo-ing and aaaah-ing. By the end of the holiday everyone gets to the point of not wanting to see another biscuit ever again - until next Christmas, when it all starts again.
The greatest faux-pas is to come visiting with a bought collection of biscuits. And so even single men often get down to baking - some of the best biscuits I've tasted come year after year from my 60 year old brickie :-)
I've decided to break the taboo and give you a few recipes - starting with my favourite, Vanilla sticks. Very easy to make, and simply delicious:
Vanilla sticks - Christmas recipe 1
200g ground almonds
200g butter (unsalted)
200g icing sugar
1 sachet vanilla sugar
2-3 egg whites
lemon peel, finely grated
Mix it all together, do not work the pastry too hard or the result won't melt in the mouth quite so perfectly :-) let it rest for 15-30 minutes, then gently roll finger-thick long 'snakes', and cut them into 3-4 cm pieces. You can leave these pieces as sticks or shape them to 1/2 moon-shapes. You can even gently roll the pastry out to about 4mm thick and cut out biscuits shapes. But whatever shape you make them, they taste simply heavenly!
Sprinkle on a little bit of icing sugar for coating once baked, and while still hot.
Put the biscuits in an airtight box for at least a week before serving.