The iconic roasted piglet, the laughing chimney sweep and the bubbly champagne existed only on greeting cards. The New Year’s Eve celebrations of my youth took place in Zugló at my relatives’ home party. Fireworks and street parties were not known during the communist era; those types of festivities are recent developments. Food was always central in Hungarian celebrations and New Year’s Eve was no different. The party started at 8:00 PM with the TV Szilveszter Kabaré.

Vidékiek Budapesten - kabaré

Shortly thereafter, the aunts brought in a tray of piping hot töpörtyűs pogácsa.

Around 11:PM we ate frankfurters with bread, horseradish and mustard.

After the countdown, the National Anthem played. 
 We kissed and that is when the grownups shed a few tears.

We drank bólé and danced to the wee hours of the morning.

At dawn, we walked down to the Erzsébet Királyné and Fűrész Utca corner, 
  got on the first streetcar of the New Year singing and laughing all the way home.

On New Year’s Day we ate cabbage rolls, pork jelly or lentil soup. Lentil and pork was essential to bring health, wealth and good luck for the New Year. My food list is both typical and personal. People partaking in large, posh parties would have a very different list of foods with caviar crepes, suckling pig and drunkard soup. A cold wave is coming down from the North and drunkard soup is in my plans to make. As for the rest... I shall leave those to the imagination.




 Olivia's Christmas cookies at age of 5

Olivia at age four

Children love baking cookies for Santa. Start with something simple. Give them help with the oven, but don't interfere. What you will both discover is they enjoy decorating cookies the most. Live for the moment, don't mind the mess, the years go by fast. In the end you will forget how the cookies fared. You will look back and remember only the time you spent together. 

The year was 1989.  2 days before Christmas. I was sick. Peter and Leilah did the entire Christmas baking

After close to five decades of Christmas baking, I concluded that quality is more important than quantity. That elaborate cookie decoration is no substitution for delicious flavour and perfect texture. We all heard the comment, "these will look good on the platter", but if the cookie is boring, nobody will want to eat it. People’s idea of what constitutes a good cookie of course is different. I too have my preferences. I don’t like mint, carob, whole wheat, ginger, applesauce, chili, mashed beans, low fat, no fat or artificial sweeteners in my cookies. The healthy cookie is an oxymoron. Christmas cookies should be melt-in-the-mouth buttery and rich with top grade, pure ingredients.

The trick is not to make more than one batch from any cookie. If you must, at least write a recalculated ingredient list and don’t assume that you will remember to double or triple every item without it. One of the reasons I omit baking times are the inevitable variables. The oven, the baking pan, the size, the number and the thickness of the cookies all determine baking time. These can change from one batch to the next. Most cookies will bake for at least ten minutes, so I set the timer for ten, check on it, and then keep underestimating the remaining baking time and resetting the timer. Sometimes I have to set the timer for one or two minutes several times. I use a timer though. If the aroma of baking cookies finds my nose, it is a good bet that they are overdone.

Let the cookies cool down completely, chocolate has to set before packing into tins. It is always a good idea to place individual cookies in paper wrappers. Use small cupcake liners or bon-bon sized paper cups. Think it through how you want to store them. Repacking makes the cookies and the liners look worn and unappetizing. When packing, avoid smearing the liners or the neighbouring cookies with chocolate. Cover each cookie layer with parchment paper. Parchment paper holds up better than wax paper. Delicate cookies don't really belong in the cookie tin. Don’t keep cookies at room temperature overnight, most cookies go stale within one day.

Happy Baking and have a Merry Christmas!

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It began with posting a few recipes on line for my family. "zsuzsa is in the kitchen" has more than 1000 Hungarian and International recipes. What started out as a private project turned into a well visited blog. The number of visitors long passed the two million mark. I organized my recipes into an on-line cookbook. On top of the page click on the cookbook to access the recipes. I am not profiting from my blog, so my visitors will not be harassed with advertising or flashy gadgets. Feel free to cut and paste my recipes for your own use. Publication is permitted as long as it is in your own words and with your own photographs. However, I would ask you for an acknowledgement and link-back to my blog. Happy cooking!