Spending the Christmas holidays in a different country to mine is something that has always been attractive to me. I feel so curious to know the diversity of Christmas traditions around the world, discover what typical food and sweets they eat on Christmas Day or living the experience of starting a new year miles away from home. Last year I spent my first Christmas holidays with S and his family, so I had the opportunity to learn about the British traditions. Although I got used to them very quick, especially mince pies, some of them are still weird to me... Why?
1. They don't celebrate Christmas Eve.
In the Spanish home, the evening of 24th is even more important than Christmas Day. We spend practically the entire night sat around the table with our families, having a large dinner, drinking, singing songs and having fun. There is a tradition in Catalonia called Caga Tió which means ‘Poo Log’ ( Now, I am imagining your faces). It’s a small log with a smiley face, wearing the traditional red Catalan hat. It begins on the 8th December, when children start to look after the Caga Tió, covering him with a blanket, to make sure he’s warm, and feeding him with Turrón every evening. So on Christmas Eve, Caga Tió will be full enough that he will poo out lots of sweets and small treats for children.
If you are already freaking out, here’s the best. To get the poo-treats, children are given a stick which they hit the Caga Tio with, while they sing a special song. (I’m not going to translate the song, sorry).
Although in my home we didn’t follow this tradition, in my primary school we did. As a little girl I always wondered how a log could poo sweets and toy treats ?!... that was until I had a handful of chocolate that I wanted to eat, then my curiosity suddenly went away.
2. They don't start the new year eating grapes!
Most of the New Year Eve’s parties are celebrated in the home, were as for Christmas you gather your family around you, for new year it is more common to invite your friends over to celebrate this special night together.
After a big feast (by this time it’s obvious that we love eating!), we turn on the tv to watch the striking clock in Puerta del Sol Square, Madrid, which is broadcast live all around Spain. Five minutes to Midnight, we prepare ourselves and get ready to fulfil one of Spain’s best and most fun traditions: the twelve grapes ! Each grape must be eaten on each chime of the clock. If you manage to eat all grapes in time, then it is said you will have a year full of prosperity and good luck!
3. The first option for Christmas Day meal is turkey. The second one? Turkey.
Whilst in England, the turkey is the star of the menu on the Big Day, in Spain we don’t have a typical Christmas meal. It varies from one home to the next depending on the culinary tastes of the family. So the meal a family may cook might vary from roast lamb, to roasted suckling pig or oven baked sea bass. However, what is generally found in all homes is the large feast prepared no matter what the meal cooked. Usually consisting of at least three courses starting with a selection of tapas, then the main dish finished off with coffee and sweets.
Oh wow yes sweets...! this reminds me that my mum will bring all my favourite sweets with her when she arrives next week !
On the subject of sweets, we have a wide variety of traditional Christmas sweets, such as, polvorones, mantecados, or ... Turrón - the one that definitely drives me crazy.
The most traditional turrones are turrón duro (hard turrón), made from whole chunks of almonds and egg white; and turrón blando (soft turrón), a firm bar containing mashed almonds and honey.
However, nowadays, other ingredients are used to offer a variety of different versions of these sweet barks during the Christmas season in Spain.
Whilst turrón is only available to buy in Spain typically at Christmas time, it can also be eaten during the year. This can happen from saving any un-eaten barks in your pantry after Christmas, or by simply breaking with tradition and making your own turrón when you crave it.
As it’s customary by now for me to give my recipes a little twist, I have made my Paleo chocolate bark, the healthiest chocolate sweet chocolate you may ever have. To do this, I have used cocoa butter, organic dark chocolate, chopped almonds, and chia seeds, giving us a guilty-free chocolate sweet. How good does this sounds right ?!
The recipe, also, couldn’t be easier to make. The only thing you will need to make this Paleo chocolate bark is; time. As it has two layers, one made from cocoa butter and chia seeds and the other from chocolate and almonds, these will need to be made separately. Once you have made the first layer put it in to the fridge to let it cool and become completely firm, only then do you pour over on top the second layer. Its important the first layer has had time to set as this ensures when adding the second layer they do not mix or merge together. Once you have poured the second layer over the first it is very important that you put the tin with the two layers back in the fridge straight away.
I left my Paleo chocolate bark in my fridge over night before taking it out, having a naughty pre-Christmas taste, and then putting it away in an air tight container until Christmas day, when I will enjoy eating it with my parents...!
So, are you going to make your own turrón? Let me know if so, I’ll love to heard from you and even see some photos of it!
PALEO CHOCOLATE BARK, A.K.A TURRON
Guilty-free chocolate bark made from cocoa butter, chopped almonds, organic dark chocolate and chia seeds. A healthy version of the traditional Spanish sweet for Christmas.
Makes 1 bar
100grams Cocoa butter
150grams Dark chocolate, coarsaly
1/3 cup Almonds, chopped
1tablespoon Chia seeds
Line with parchment paper a loaf tin (24 cm x 14 cm / 9.2 in x 5.5 in)
Make the first layer, we will cook the cocoa butter in bain-marie. To do this, get a saucepan and pot that are formed to fit together, with one sitting partway inside the other. In the saucepan, put water already hot, covering just 1/3 part of it. Then, fit the pot on the saucepan and put the cocoa butter in to the pot. The saucepan will be used to hold simmering water, which gently will heat the cocoa butter in the upper pot.
Very gently, stir the cocoa butter using a wooden spoon until well melted. It will turn white and clear and the smell will make you to want to lick the spoon (please, don’t do it!) . Then add in the chia seeds and stir until well combined.
Pour the cocoa mixture into the loaf tin and put it the fridge for about 1:30 hours until the bark is completely firm.
You can check it by touching the mixture, if your tip finger doesn’t mark on it, it’s time to make the second layer.
Using the same method, melt the chocolate, stirring with a wooden spoon.
When the chocolate is almost melted, add in the chopped almonds and keep stirring until well melted and combined. Make sure not to burn the chocolate, once it’s burnt this can’t be fixed.
Turn the heat off and, carefully, remove the saucepan from the hob. Take the loaf tin from the fridge and quickly, pour the chocolate mixture over the cocoa butter and put the loaf tin back to the fridge.
Let it cool overnight. Enjoy!
By Laura | Lau Sunday cooks