Last year, catapulted into Tier 4 and confined to London for Christmas, we had to fend for ourselves for the first time ever on Christmas Eve. Granny came to the rescue with this guest blog post, now recorded for posterity so that you will be able to carry on a vital family tradition. Baby Jesus, sparklers and Mennyből az Angyal are also obligatory.
These dishes have long been part of the repertoire, ever since Babú arrived in my unsuspecting Scottish/English family. It is based on the customary Christmas Eve meal eaten in what is now northern Slovakia, where Babú’s stepfather (Nagypapi) grew up. Touchingly, even after the family grew too large and my sister Jane and her family no longer spent Christmas with us, she continued to make this same meal on Christmas Eve. I hope in due course you will too. We always manage to make too much, but the soup freezes well and the cooked bobajka (also known in Hungarian as mákos guba) keep for up to six months in a plastic storage box in a cool larder. For the latter, we use the traditional recipe, based on a raised dough.
Cabbage soup (káposztaleves)
1 large smoked ham hock
1 kg sauerkraut
Small pack dried ceps
A couple of bay leaves
1 pair Gyulai kolbász (dried paprika sausage, available online from various Hungarian delis)
Sunflower oil or lard
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tbs plain flour
2 tbs sweet paprika or a mixture of sweet and spicy (not smoked)
Salt and pepper
Soak the hock overnight in cold water, changing the water a couple of times if you can. In the morning, soak the ceps in a bowl of warm water.
Put the hock in a large pan, cover with cold water, add the bay leaves, bring to the boil and simmer until the hock is completely tender (at least a couple of hours).
Remove the hock and put aside to cool; taste the cooking water for saltiness and remove the bay leaves. Remove the ceps and keep the soaking water.
Rinse the sauerkraut and add to the hock cooking water (discarding some of it if too salty and making up with fresh water. Add the ceps, chopped a bit smaller if necessary, their soaking water, the ham hock torn into small pieces and the kolbász sliced into roughly 0.5 cm discs.
Sauter the chopped onion in the oil or lard; once soft, add the flour and the paprika, cook gently for a few minutes, then ladle in some of the soup to loosen. Tip the mixture back into the soup and simmer for another half an hour or so. Season as necessary and serve with soured cream either stirred in or separately. If you anticipate leftovers, it’s better to keep the soured cream separate.
Bobajka (Mákos guba)
600g strong white flour
20g fresh yeast (or roughly 7g instant yeast)
60g butter (lard is more traditional)
60g caster sugar
A pinch of salt
200g ground poppy seeds
200g caster sugar
600ml milk, warmed
Mix the yeast with 3 sugar cubes, 200ml warm milk and enough flour to make a starter dough. Leave to rise in a warm place.
Weigh out 600g flour into the bowl of the mixer, add the melted butter, the sugar, the salt, the yolks of the two eggs and the starter dough. Add enough warm milk to make a dough (not too soft and not too dry) and knead using the dough hook until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. Cover with a cloth and leave to rise in a warm place. Preheat the oven to 180 (fan).
Take pieces of the dough and on a floured surface, roll them into long, thin sausage shapes.
Bake on an ungreased baking tray until they are beginning to brown. Note that they will continue to rise during baking, so take care to space them adequately.
Chop into roughly 2cm pieces and bake briefly again. Traditionally this second baking is done in hot lard, but we dispense with those additional calories.
Serve with hot milk, honey (preferably acacia) and ground poppy seed mixed 50:50 with caster sugar. The debate about the correct order in which to add these rages on.