Brandy Butter Recipe

Of course, I nearly gorged myself on food at the family Christmas dinner yesterday. It was the second family feast this season, having had a Christmas feast with the Melbourne branch of the family a couple of weeks ago. For both, I made what is for me a traditional condiment for the pudding. It’s very easy, no doubt about it, but something that’s become absolutely essential: the brandy butter. (It also goes by the name “hard sauce“.) Drop it on the steaming hot pudding, watch it melt, and eat it as it soaks in.

I base my recipe on how I remember my grandmother’s brandy butter tasting. While some recipes suggest icing sugar (a.k.a. confectioner’s sugar), I prefer caster sugar (a.k.a. baker’s sugar) because of the texture. Also, I’ve got a fairly light amount of brandy in this recipe, and even my three-year old is known to have eaten it. You can probably double it, if you like a stronger taste.


  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 1 cup (250mL) caster sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (40mL) brandy
  • ground nutmeg, for decorating


  1. Bring the butter close to room temperature, so it has become soft. Place in a bowl and using an electric beater, whisk on medium-high until it has become creamy.
  2. While continuing to whisk, slowly add the sugar. The mix will become whiter and fluffier.
  3. Continuing to whisk, slowly add the brandy. Stop when mixed through (should take 15 seconds or so).
  4. Using a teaspoon, drop spoonfuls of the mixture into an ice-cube tray. When the tray is full, tap it on the bench to level, and then lightly sprinkle the top with the ground nutmeg, before placing in the freezer to set (should take an hour or so).
  5. Just before serving, remove from the freezer, and run the back of the tray under a hot tap. A couple of gentle whacks should now dislodge the brandy butter.

Makes ~20 large cubes of brandy butter.

Apparently, Santa is small

You are probably familiar with the poem attributed to Clement Clarke Moore that begins “Twas the night before Christmas”. We have at least two copies of it in book-form in our house (with James Marshall and Corinne Malvern as illustrators), and it’s a book that Harriet has been frequently asking to have read recently.

It’s justly well-known, as it, as much as any other source, is responsible for the modern-day conception of Santa Claus / Father Christmas / St Nicholas. According to Wikipedia’s pages on Moore’s poem and Santa, the 1823 poem (called “A Visit from St Nicholas”) can be credited with establishing:

  • Santa’s physical attributes,
  • arriving on Christmas Eve,
  • traveling via a reindeer-drawn sleigh,
  • the names of the reindeer,
  • entering via the chimney, and
  • bringing toys to children!

So, after the n-th reading of it, I was surprised to realise that there was something I’d missed. Although all the illustrations that accompanied the poem depicted St Nick as normal human-size (as well as every illustration I’ve ever seen of Santa), the poem clearly casts him as a midget. Not only is Father Christmas pint-sized, but so are all of the reindeer.

Here are the relevant lines from the poem:

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof

He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly:
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf

Yes, that’s right – Santa is a tiny elf who travels in a miniature sleigh. Hence why the reindeer can land on the roof of a house and why he can fit down a chimney (although, some physicists have speculated at other ways Santa might fit down a chimney).

The part of the Santa Claus cultural tradition that states that he is a large, portly man comes not from Moore’s poem, but from elsewhere, e.g. soft-drink advertising campaigns, or Thomas Nast’s illustrations. It is the combination of this large Santa with Moore’s slim-chimney-fitting Santa that has created a problem, i.e. that we need to explain how Father Christmas gets down the chimney.

So, now every time I read the story for Harriet, I’m going to have dissonance in my head between the words and the pictures, and will dread answering how Santa gets into the house in a way that gels with the poem as well as the more “normal” view of him. Although it was very influential, it’s a pity that the poem wasn’t also influential in the matter of St Nick’s size.

One last way that the poem has been influential is in the number of alternative re-tellings that it has generated. There is a good collection of them here. I like the one about assembling presents – this is also something (given two children under three) that I dread will happen.

Nuts and Bolts Recipe

My grandfather always makes this recipe at Christmas, so for me it is part of that bundle of food associations that make this time of year particularly special. However, this year he’s been a little unwell, so didn’t have time to make the stuff. He normally produces enough Nuts and Bolts to feel a small nation, and gives gifts of the savoury snack to every family member. The dinner table wouldn’t have been the same this year without it, so I made a quick batch. It is deliciously more-ish!


250g dry-roasted peanuts, unsalted
300g Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain (these are the “bolts”)
1/2 cup (125mL) of light oil (preferably peanut oil)
45g packet of French Onion Soup mix
1 tablespoon of curry powder
1 teaspoon of mustard powder


Heat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius.

Mix together all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

Warm oil in microwave, for example, on High setting for 30 seconds, then pour over the dry ingredients and mix well.

Spread the mix across a large, flat baking dish and put into the oven for 15-20 minutes, removing to stir every 5 minutes or so. The result should look dry and smell very aromatic.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool before eating. Needs to be stored in an air-tight container.

This recipe is easily adaptable to taste, e.g. use more or less Nutri-Grain, nuts, curry or mustard as your taste dictates.

Makes enough Nuts and Bolts to fill a 2L container. Best eaten before 1st January.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

The Karma of Kringle

Christmas is a time of giving, and this is keenly illustrated by the tradition of the Kris Kringle. A group of people committing to give presents to each other, often anonymously, and generally randomly, up to a fixed dollar value. It’s fair, fun and festive. However, what if people don’t play by the rules?

The other week I went out to dinner with my Toastmasters club for our Christmas break-up, and everyone who came had to participate in a Kris Kringle, up to a value of $5. The other rule was that everyone had to give a short talk on the present they got – well, it was Toastmasters after all.

It took me a long time to find something for no more than $5 that I would like to receive as a gift, and was interesting enough to be able to talk about. Ironically, once I left the shop, I immediately found something better, but I felt I had to stick with the original present. What’s worse: spending $5 on a $4 present, or $10 on a $5 present? I thought that the latter bent the spirit of Kris Kringle a little.

Unfortunately, on the night it became clear that almost everyone had cheated. Most presents would have been between $8 to $10.  One person appeared to have spent $15 on a $15 present – the RRP was printed on it! I get it that people may have valued their own time highly, and traded off searching time against present cost. But it was not a level playing field any more – not everyone was giving a talk about a $5 present, and some people were probably disappointed at what they received versus what they gave. Personally, I benefited, since what I received would have cost more than $5, but I felt a bit let down on behalf of the person who received my gift. If I’d known that the Kris Kringle was a minimum, not a maximum, then I would have shopped differently.

Should you keep to the Kris Kringle limit? Can you conscientiously break the implicit agreement between the group? Is it just about the giving, not the shopping? All I’ve been told is that Santa knows who’s been naughty or nice …