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Cooking up classic holiday treats
2012-12-17

There is nothing quite like gathering around the table with your loved ones to tuck into a Christmas dinner. But the chefs of Shanghai are working hard to make sure what is on the menu is something extra-special.

From the hotels of the Bund to bakeries, cafes and even pizza places, eateries are all injecting a bit of Christmas cheer into their menus.

Lisa Crowe, pastry chef at The Peninsula Shanghai, has been prepping the hotel for months ahead of the Christmas season.

Massive Christmas trees liven up the hotel as Michael Buble croons out Christmas carols on the stereo, and dozens of gingerbread houses capture the attention of young children under the bay windows.

Quite simply, Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year for The Peninsula.

"Chinese people don't really celebrate Christmas so it's fun to present the traditional elements of the season, with all the trimmings," Crowe says.

As well as the "tons and tons" of gingerbread her team produced for the gingerbread display, they have also created special Christmas treats such as gingerbread men, chocolate angels, and special desserts for the festive season.

But not every Christmas treat is a hit with the locals, Crowe says. For example, the traditional German fruit cake, stollen, has been a tough sell and the British Christmas pudding is a no-go.

"If there's something that they really don't like, then there's no point trying to push it. Especially when there are plenty of other treats they absolutely love," says the chef.

But the younger generation is more receptive to trying some of the more traditional Christmas fare, Crowe says. "We have this generational thing going on where the younger Chinese are starting to really celebrate Christmas, and with that comes an embracing of all the Christmas foods. Maybe in a few years stollen will be a regular part of it, but it's still something people are getting used to."

While traditional Chinese celebrations are very much celebrated in the family home, people in Shanghai tend to head out to the restaurants for Christmas, Crowe says.

"We will have 350 Chinese people in the ballroom restaurant celebrating on December 24. That's pretty incredible when you consider that it was barely recognized even 10 years ago," she adds.

Robin Sun of the Waldorf Astoria on the Bund agrees. His Christmas menus are a hit with Chinese, and more and more locals are embracing the season.

But with many German and American Christmas treats bordering on overly sweet for Chinese, Sun tends to rework traditional recipes for his Chinese guests.

"If you follow the traditional recipes, it can be very sweet and too heavy. You have to balance the recipe for the Chinese palate, and make it less sweet," he says.

For example, his red velvet yule log, based on an American recipe, has been changed to better suit his guests.

His team tries to deliver a "Chinese-style" Christmas for guests.

"We cannot fully copy from the Western Christmas. Ten years ago, you would never see a Christmas tree in Shanghai. Now they are everywhere. But Shanghai cannot fully Americanize the season here, because there will always be the Chinese influence," Sun says.

He tries to include Chinese ingredients such as oolong tea, sweet red beans, or Chinese spices where possible.

The hotel's Christmas feast will include an oolong tea yule log cake, which he expects will be a hit with Shanghainese.

"Panettone and English fruit cake with brandy are also liked very much by the locals. But again, if you follow the traditional way completely, it might not be right.

"We need to balance things, and be very careful about making it the right mix of traditional for our international guests, and familiar for our locals. It takes work."

Shanghai Daily invites the two chefs to share their Christmas pastry recipes, so you can try them at home.

Gingerbread men

Ingredients:

2 cups of flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tbsp ground ginger

1 cup of brown sugar, tightly packed

150g butter

1 egg, beaten

Preparations:

1. Sift together flour, baking soda and ground ginger and place in a food processor or bowl. Add brown sugar.

2. Rub in butter with fingertips or pulse in food processor until it is a bread-crumb consistency. Add egg and mix.

3. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

4. Roll out on floured surface until it's a suitable thickness and holds together well.

5. Using cookie cutters or a mold, cut into gingerbread-men shapes.

6. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until cooked and golden. Leave on a rack to cool.

7. Make icing by adding food coloring and 1 1/2 teaspoons water to icing sugar. Use to decorate the men with faces, hair and clothing. Chocolate buttons, lollies and other decorations can be added to make each one individual.

Red velvet yule log cake

Ingredients:

500g unsalted butter

500g caster sugar (sperfine)

500g eggs

450g cake flour

50g pure cocoa powder

1g baking soda

15g beetroot powder

For the frosting:

1,000g butter cream

500g cream cheese

1 piece of lime zest

300g icing sugar

Preparations:

1. Mix unsalted butter with the custard sugar until smooth. Add the eggs.

2. Fold in the flour, cocoa and beetroot powder until the mixture is completely mixed.

3. Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes on top of wax paper.

4. Allow to cool before applying the frosting over the whole log and slowly rolling it up.

5. Add decorative chocolates, nuts and other toppings.

Traditional Christmas desserts

Panettone - A type of sweet bread loaf from Milan, Italy. It has a distinctive fluffy texture and includes raisins, candied orange, lemon zest and citron. It can also be made with chocolate and other additions.

Christmas pudding - A dark pudding containing raisins and alcohol such as brandy. It's often made weeks ahead of time and "hung" to dry. It's steamed and served with sauces such as custard or rum butter. It's common in the United Kingdom.

Christstollen or stollen - A German fruit cake with dried fruit, nuts, spices marzipan, and is often covered in icing sugar.

Pavlova - A meringue-based dessert popular in Australia and New Zealand. It has a crunchy outer and a soft, marshmallow-like center. It is decorated with whipped cream and fresh fruit such as strawberries, kiwi fruit and passion fruit.

Eggnog - An American beverage made with milk or cream, sugar, and whipped eggs, giving it a frothy texture. Alcohol such as rum or brandy are added, and it can be finished with cinnamon or nutmeg.

By Kerry McBride

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