Diverse DIY

It already smells a lot like Christmas!

December is here! This month is connected to Christmas. By now all shops have decorated their vitrines and the municipalities the streets. Last weekend we even had our Christkindlimarkt (the Christmas market) in our town!

In our home we follow a mixture of Greek and Swiss customs. The past two weeks were the time for me to prepare for our house for Christmas. This year we have kittens in our house, so decorations have to stay minimum.

The first thing I decided to make is an Adventskranz or Advents wreath. It is a common custom of central Europe to have four candles that you light one after the other one each of the four Sundays before Christmas. The first one is usually during the last days of November or early December and the last one of course the closest possible to Christmas. This year they are all in December, (2nd, 9th, 16th and 23rd of the month).

The most important ingredient of an Adventskranz is the candles. I found four really nice candles on offer during November (dark red with small golden stars around), so I had that ones already. In addition, we had collected a few fir branches during a Sunday walk in the woods, so I decided to use them too, as well as some of the few small Christmas decorations we have collected during the years. The whole thing was quite simple to make, but the result was satisfying for us!

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Our Adventskranz: The two biggest ones are already started and the smallest will be lit on the 23rd December.

I was left with several more fir branches, so I decided to make a Christmas wreath. As before, I used materials that we had already at home: wire, pipe-cleaners, small ornaments.

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Our Christmas wreath

I started by making a small circle with the wire we use for gardening.

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The circle of gardening wire that became the core of the wreath.

I then choose one of my longest branches and by using red pipe-cleaners I secured it in place together with the wire. This was the base of my wreath. Then with the help of my husband, we were releasing parts of the pipe-cleaners, so as to secure smaller branches besides the base, so as to give to the wreath a bit of more volume. In the end we hanged the small decorations using a bit of thinner wire.

I had a couple of more branches left and was trying to think of something different to make, but in the meanwhile Aria decided she likes them a lot and claimed them for herself. Oh well, we can all have fun from a few fir branches!

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Aria liked the braches herself. She even moved the red bow-knot on her stack.

Besides decorations, Christmas is not the same without the traditional cookies. With the help of my mother in law, last weekend was dedicated to our favourite Swiss Christmas cookies. In Switzerland there are countless types of Christmas cookies. We made eight different types of Christmas Guetzli:

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  • Mailänderli: I think one of the most typical Christmas cookies here
  • Schwabenbrötli: A variation of Mailänderli with almond
  • Rumringli: Cookies with a bit of rum
  • Kokosmakronli: Macaroon with coconut flakes
  • Zimtsterne: Definitely one of the most typical Christmas cookies both in Austria and in Switzerland
  • Pfeffernüsse: The most typical Christmas cookies in the Netherlands (there they are called peppernoten) and quite widespread in central Europe too. They have a little bit of white pepper inside, thus called peppernuts
  • Brunsli: Another of the most typical Christmas cookies in Switzerland
  • Chräbeli: Cookies with anise. They are quite time-consuming as they need to dry for 24-48 hours before being baked

Besides these, we also made two types of chocolaty drops: cornflakes with chocolate and chocolate almonds. These are easy, as they do not need baking. Just melting the chocolate and mixing it with the cornflakes or the pieces of almonds.

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Ten different types: All of our Guetzli in a photo. The Chräbeli were still drying (they need 24-48 hours).

So only the Greek touch was missing! I added it last week, when I made my absolutely favourite Christmas sweets: Melomakarona. In my previous post you can find my own recipe for these typical Greek Guetzli.

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Melomakarona

So now we are totally ready for Christmas! Hopefully the sweets will last till the end of the month. In any case, the branches were destroyed by Aria within a week. Now she has to find a new game!

Cooking

Melomakarona

We are close to Christmas and everybody is preparing for the season. Have you already decorated your Christmas tree? We are not going to have any, as we have kittens around. Nevertheless, it doesn’t have to be less Christmas for us, so yesterday I decided to prepare my favourite Greek Christmas treat: melomakarona

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My melomakarona. I decided to make them in stars this year, instead of egg-shaped.

Melomakarona are traditionally egg-shaped and dipped in syrup. It is a totally vegan sweet. It does not include any milk or egg or butter. On the contrary it is based on olive oil. I have tried several recipes of them over the past years, even the one from my favourite chef Akis Petretzikis, but I am sorry Akis, I didn’t like them. By now I have my own recipe and I decided to share it with you.

For about 90 pieces you will need:

  • 340 ml olive oil
  • 110 g margarine
  • 200 g sugar
  • juice from two oranges
  • 2 tsp orange zest
  • 60 ml cognac
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 kg flour
  • spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, clover or a mixture of them, such as speculaas or mixed spices)
  • some ground walnuts for decoration

For the syrup you will need :

  • 1.5 cups honey
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 1.5 cups water

It is better to start from the syrup, as it should be cool by the time the melomakarona will be ready. My mom was saying one should be cold and one should be warm, in order for the melomakarona to absorb the syrup inside and be a bit crunchy outside.

You add in equal volumes of honey, sugar and water and you let it start boiling. You should pay attention to it, as honey tends to foam when boiling. Then you add a bit of the spices that are typical for these sweets. I remember my mother adding mainly cinnamon sticks and whole clovers, but since I started making my own in the Netherlands, I have been using the ready speculaas mixture. This is similar to the pumpkin pie spice in the US or the mixed spices in the UK. I add about half a teaspoon of this spice mixture. Let it boil for a few minutes till it looks homogenised and then remove it from the fire and let it cool down.

For the cookies add oil, margarine, the orange juice and zest, the sugar, the spices and the cognac in a bowl and mix them with a wooden spoon a bit. In another bowl mix the flour with the baking powder and the baking soda and add it in portions to the liquid mixture. Continue mixing with the wooden spoon for as long as you can. If it gets difficult, use your hands. In general, the dough is an easy one. Because of the big quantity of oil it is not sticking and it is easy to work it even without really putting your hands inside. You should never use a mixer for these cookies and you should keep in mind that if you over-work the dough the oil will not get integrated to the dough. As a result, they will be dry when they get backed. The dough is ready when it is a nice, bit oily mass. If it is too dry, add some more oil or if it is too oily still add some flour.

When it is ready, you should work with it directly. Don’t let it rest for long, or the oil will precipitate. You can either create small egg-shaped cookies with your hands, or cut it in different shapes. This year, I decided to make them in stars myself. They don’t grow while cooking, so you don’t have to worry about the spacing.

They get cooked for 20 – 25 min in a preheated oven at 180 C fan. They are ready when they start getting a bit brownish. Before taking them out, prepare your syrup and a tray to put them on. Carefully, put one by one the hot melomakarona in the cold syrup. I leave them only about one minute from one side and one from the other. At my home we don’t like them if they are too sweet and if you leave them too much they break inside the syrup. You have to find how you like them yourself, so try a couple of them, to figure out how sweet you want them. Remember that the warmer the cookies, the faster they absorb the syrup, so if they are cooled down a bit, let them a bit longer inside.

When you put them on the tray you can sprinkle them with the walnuts.