Darina Allen: Nollaig na mBan traditions and recipes

Nollaig na mBan. That’s the enchanting Irish name given to Women’s Little Christmas on January 6 — the feast of the Epiphany.

It’s the traditional end of the Christmas season, the day we take down the Christmas tree and pack the baubles and tinsel into the attic for another year. But most importantly, it’s the day when the women of Ireland get to have time off from household chores after all the festive cooking.

A special day to get together with friends, sisters, mothers, and aunts. The men cheerfully take over the household for the day, so the women can gather together to party and have a glass of fizz.

I was surprised to discover that many other countries have a similar tradition, although the date sometimes varies.

The Nordic countries have many customs, as have Ukraine, Slovenia, Galicia, and closer to home there are high jinks and céilís in the Scottish Highlands, where it’s called Là Féill nan Rìgh, The Feast of the Kings in Gaelic.

La Fête des Rois is also celebrated in France with the delicious Galette des Rois as the centrepiece of the table.

Every boulangére offers their version of the flaky pastry galette, with a little trinket known as a ‘fève’ hidden deep inside the marzipan filling.

Each comes with a golden paper crown, which the lucky person who finds the fève in their slice will wear when they are crowned king for the day.

Here in Ireland, the custom had almost disappeared, apart from in the counties of Cork and Kerry, but there has been an enthusiastic revival of Women’s Little Christmas in recent years. Many restaurants and hotels are offering jolly Nollaig na mBan celebrations with exciting entertainment, dancing, and music, as well as afternoon tea or dinner so the womenfolk can enjoy a night out.

We just found this funny poem on social media penned by Nuala Woulfe (@NWoulfeWriter) — a few lines to whet your appetite:

Mammies on the Dance Floor

Mammies on the dance floor, let out for the night

Dancing round their handbags, whooping with delight

Mammies on the dance floor, kicking up the dust

Checking out the six packs, overcome with lust!

Mammies on the dance floor, one more round of beer

Eyeing up the bouncers, giving them the leer…

So off you go ladies, let the hair down, but if you’d like a delectable afternoon tea and gossip around the fire, instead here are some of my favourite sweet treats for those who love to bake…

Ballymaloe Sausage Rolls with Caraway Seeds

Makes 8 – 16 depending on size

    450g (1lb) best quality sausages

    450g (1lb) puff pastry

    Egg Wash: 1 egg and a drop of milk

    50g (2ozs) Caraway seeds or sesame seeds

Form the sausage meat into rolls, either regular or jumbo size to fit the pastry.

Roll the pastry into a rectangle about 4mm (1/6 inch) thick. Lay the sausage meat along the wider side 5cm (2 inch) from the edge. Brush with egg wash or water. Fold over the excess pastry, press to seal and cut along

the edge. Flake the edge with a knife or seal with a fork.

Brush the top of pastry with egg wash and prick the surface with a fork at 1” (2cm) intervals.

Cover and chill. Repeat with the remainder.

Preheat the oven to 230C/450F/Gas Mark 8.

Before cooking cut into 8’s or 16’s . Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with optional caraway seeds. Cook for 20-25 minutes depending on size.

Darina’s Coconut and Jelly Cakes

Makes 18

    150g (5ozs) butter (at room temperature)

    150g (5ozs) caster sugar

    150g (5ozs) self raising flour

    2 large eggs

    2 tbsp milk

    ½ tsp pure vanilla extract

    Redcurrant jelly or redcurrant jelly mixed with raspberry jam

    110g (4oz) desiccated coconut

    300ml (10fl oz) cream

    2 tsp icing sugar

Equipment: 2 muffin tins lined with 18 muffin cases

Preheat oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.

Put all ingredients except milk into a food processor, whizz until smooth. Scrape down sides of the bowl, then add milk and whizz again.

Divide mixture evenly between cases in muffin tin. Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until risen and golden. Allow to cool on a wire cake rack.

Whip the cream with the sieved icing sugar and spoon into a piping bag.

Dip or brush each bun with the jelly, roll in desiccated coconut. Cut the top third of each cake almost all the way through and pipe in a large rosette of cream.

Serve immediately. Unfilled cakes can be kept in an airtight tin for a day or two.

Galette des Rois

In France, on the Festival of the Kings, on January 6, fifty million flaky galette des rois are eaten. Tucked into the soft frangipane filling is a little surprise. Everyone sits around the dining table, but the youngest child climbs underneath.

As the galette is served, slice by slice, Madame points at the portion and asks: ‘Who is that slice for?’. The child calls out each person’s name, the lucky person who finds the feve in their slice is the king and the golden crown is placed on their head.

As the king raises a glass everyone choruses: ‘The king drinks, the king drinks’.

Serves 8

    450g all butter puff pastry chilled

    Filling:

    75g (3ozs) ground hazelnuts toasted, freshly ground

    25g (1oz) ground almonds110g

    (4 ozs) castor sugar

    40g (1½ ozs) melted butter

    2 egg yolks, preferably free range and organic

    2 tbsp double cream

    1 dstsp rum (optional)

    Egg wash made with 1 beaten egg and a tiny pinch of salt

Glaze: Icing sugar

To Serve: Softly whipped cream

Preheat the oven to 230˚C/450˚F/regulo 8.

Divide the pastry in half, roll out just less than ¼ inch thick, cut into two circles approx 10 inch (25.5cm) in diameter. Put one onto a damp baking sheet. Keep both pieces chilled in the fridge while you make the filling (the second piece could be on a sheet of parchment paper on a plate in the fridge).

Mix all the ingredients for the filling together (except the egg wash) in a bowl until smooth. Put the filling onto the pastry base, leaving a rim of about 1 inch (2.5mm) free around the edge. Brush the rim with beaten egg or water and put on the lid of puff pastry, press it down well around the edges.

Flute the edges with a knife.

Make a small hole in the centre, brush with egg wash and leave for five minutes in the refrigerator. With the back of a knife, nick the edge of the pastry 12 times at regular intervals to form a scalloped edge with a rose petal effect.

Mark long curving lines from the central hole outwards to designate formal petals. Be careful not to cut through the pastry just score it.

Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven, then lower the heat to 200C/400F/regulo 6 and bake for 30 minutes approx until well risen and golden.

While still hot dredge heavily with icing sugar and return to a very hot oven or pop under a grill (do not leave the grill) — the sugar will melt and caramelize to a dark brown glaze. Serve warm or cold with a bowl of softly whipped cream.

Note: Galette des Rois is best eaten warm, but it also keeps well and may be reheated.

Little Choccie Mousses

Serve in little glasses, chocolate mousse is very rich – so don’t serve too large helpings.

Serves 8-10

    225g (8ozs) plain chocolate (we use 52% Callebaut)

    1 tablespoon of Jamaican rum

    4 free range eggs, separated

    Crème fraiche or softly whipped cream to serve

Break chocolate into small pieces and put into a Pyrex bowl, melt over a saucepan of hot water. As soon as the water comes to the boil turn off the heat and allow to soften. Stir until melted and smooth. Remove, cool, whisk in the rum and egg yolks one by one. Whisk the egg whites stiffly and fold gently into the melted chocolate.

Fill into small bowls or glasses. Allow to set in a fridge.

To Serve: Serve with a blob of crème fraiche.

Note: These little pots are very rich so extra crème fraîche may be welcome.

Lemon Curd Meringue Cupcakes

Makes 24

Cupcakes

    225g (8oz) butter (at room temperature)

    225g (8oz) caster sugar

    225g (8oz) self-raising flour

    4 organic large eggs

    Zest of 2 lemons

Lemon Curd

    2 ozs (50g) butter

    4 ozs (110g) caster sugar

    Grated zest and juice of 2 lemons

    2 organic eggs and 1 organic egg yolk whisked (keep white aside fo meringue)

Lemon Curd Cream

    110ml (4floz) mascarpone

    4 tbsp lemon curd (see recipe)

    2 tbsp sieved icing sugar

Meringue Kisses

    2 egg whites

    4½ ozs (117g) icing sugar

Garnish

Sprig of Lemon Balm or Lemon Verbena

2 muffin tins lined with 24 muffin cases.

Preheat oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.

First make the cupcakes

Put all ingredients into a food processer, whizz until smooth. Divide mixture evenly between cases in muffin tin. Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until risen and golden.

Meanwhile, make the lemon curd

Melt the butter on a very low heat. Add the caster sugar, lemon zest and juice and then add the whisked eggs. Stir carefully over a gentle heat with a straight ended wooden spatula until the mixture coats the backof it. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

To make the meringue

Line a baking sheet with silicone paper. Mix all the sugar with the egg whites at once and beat until the mixture forms stiff dry peaks.

Drop little ‘blobs’ of the mixture on to the baking sheet and flatten slightly with a teaspoon. Bake immediately in a low oven 150°C/ 300°F/regulo 2 for 10-15 minutes or until set crisp.

To assemble

Mix the lemon curd into the mascarpone and add the sieved icing sugar. Put into a piping bag with a medium sized plain nozzle.

Put the remainder of the lemon curd into a piping bag with a small plain nozzle. Insert the nozzle into the top of the cupcake and squeeze in a small teaspoon of lemon curd.

Pipe a blob of lemon cream over the top. It should almost cover the top of the cupcake. Top with a little more lemon curd and pop a meringue kiss on top, garnish with a sprig of lemon balm or lemon verbena. Eat as soon as possible.

Hot Tips

The Irish Seed Savers 2019 catalogue has just arrived: Make this year the year to discover the magic of growing some of your own food. Irish Seed Savers have done Trojan work saving valuable heritage seed varieties since 1996 so check out and support their work by becoming a member; irishseedsavers.ie.

Also, make a note of Brown Envelope Seeds (brownenvelopeseeds.com) and get an early order in to be ready to sow seeds as soon as the soil temperature warms up (could be a while). Better still swing by the Brown Envelope Seeds stall at the Skibbereen Farmers’ Market on Saturday to meet Madeline and Holly for sage advice.

Then there is GIY (Grow it Yourself), check out their website — giy.ie — to access lots of invaluable advice and gardening tips or visit GIY HQ and café in Waterford.

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