Holiday Baking Special: Belgian Favorites, Santa History and Baking Problems Solved! | Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street

JOIN! 12 Weeks for $1

Episode 730
December 14, 2023

Holiday Baking Special: Belgian Favorites, Santa History and Baking Problems Solved!

Holiday Baking Special: Belgian Favorites, Santa History and Baking Problems Solved!

This week, we visit Belgium for holiday baking and festivities with Regula Ysewijn. Plus, we learn about a Welsh tradition that happens on the darkest days of winter, our friends from “A Way with Words” teach us old holiday drinking songs, we make Czech-style kolaches (a sweet cheese- and jam-filled pastry), and Cheryl Day returns to take your baking calls.

Questions in this episode:

"I'm trying to figure out the origins of this holiday cake my late grandmother used to make at Christmastime. Can you help me?"

"I'm baking spiral gingerbread cookies. How do you make the white dough so that it rolls out easily without crumbling?"

"I'm trying to find an actual recipe for these Italian holiday cookies my grandmother used to make."

Regula ysewijn 3345 liggend

Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Today it's our holiday show Regula Ysewijn shares culinary traditions from Belgium and tells us why tourists regret eating Brussels waffles on the street.

Regula Ysewijn: In Belgium that is something that we would never do because, I mean, you just need to try and stand in a headwind with a waffle like that. I mean, you're completely full of icing sugar.

CK: Later in the show waffles, honey cakes and more with Regula Ysewijn. Plus, Cheryl Day is back to answer your baking questions, and we learn about hot drinks from history. But first, we're taking a trip to Wales. During the darkest days of winter, the Welsh enjoyed a tradition called the Mari Lwyd. Answer knock at your door and you'll be met with rude rhymes and reveler wearing a hunting horses’ skull. So, what does one do when faced with a Mari Lwyd celebration? Well, to answer that, we're joined by Welsh journalist Jude Rogers. Jude Welcome to Milk Street.

Jude Rogers: Thank you very much.

CK: Mari Lwyd, is that the right way to pronounce what we're about to talk about?

JR: Yeah, because I know it's your lovely accent. But we see Mari a bit more Mari.

CK: This is really fascinating. So why don't you just start with a basic explanation of what we're talking about.

JR: So, we're going to be talking today about Christmas and winters traditions in Wales, many of which involve strange things. Some of them involve horses, skulls, toffee making, strange Celtic folklore.

CK: So, let's let's talk about the pale horses. So, what is the heritage of pale horses in Celtic and British mythology?

JR: So, the white horse is a very important mythological figure across the British Isles. But in Wales, when you talk about horses and folklore, you're talking about the Mari Lwyd and the Mari Lwyd is a horse's skull on a pole, with a like a hood kind of cloth over the top. So, all you can basically see as a horse's skull, walking along the street with this terrifying, eerie cloak over it. There are some versions of this tradition across the United Kingdom, but the Mari Lwyd has become thought of as a very Welsh version of this creature and associated with winter.

CK: So, I have to ask, why do people parade around with a horse skull with a white sheet over the top in the middle of winter? Because they want to be let in for you know, some food and drink or is this because what?

JR: Oh, there's nothing much to do in Wales in the winter, you know? Isn't it? Well, if you go back into the history books, the Mari Lwyd was first written about in the early 1800s. But basically, there was there was a lot of poverty in Wales, during the various ways of industrialization, and people used to dress up and go around houses to try and entertain people to get money and food in the winter. The winter was a time where there wasn't much work. Obviously, the farms weren't particularly active. There's a similar tradition to the Mari Lwyd called and the hoodning in Kent, so just quite near London, but , I think in Wales, it was tied into more a culture and a tradition of singing going house to house and singing and joking and with the Mari Lwyd, the way it's done now, which is the way it was apparently done in the 1800s, the group of people go to the house with the central figure who is got the horse's skull on the pole and the hood, they knock on the door, and they've exchanged jokes with the people there. And it's almost like a kind of competition of banter. This is called pwnco p-w-n-c-o. And if the horse is allowed inside by the person at the door, that house then is bestowed with luck from this cheeky horse. And the people can go into the house then get bread and cheese.

CK: Before you go on the pwnco the way it was described to me it was an exchange of rude rhymes. (Yes). So, can we explore that a little more because you seem to sort of gloss over that I noticed.

JR: Yeah, the the Mari is quite a cheeky thing with a pole, you can manipulate the horse’s skull. And if you're seeing this horse, the horses always trying to, you know, steal somebody's wallet with their mouth or they're trying to kind of steal, you know, a bottle of beer or a piece of bread or whatever. But I think historically as well, it happens in the winter because it's got an association with wassailing so as it says in January, after Christmas, when you quite often in Wales and on the Welsh borders with England, get celebrations in orchards where people are hanging pieces of toast to trees to kind of encourage the birds to come to encourage a good apple harvest later in the year.

CK: So, wassail just so I understand wassail refers both to the drink the punch or whatever (yes) as well as was sailing, which is a verb, right? Yeah. And wassailing is a celebration, but it was it was also a song. There are lots of beautiful, very rousing folk songs. So, a lot of it is associated with the parts of the UK that have an association with Celts or Arthurian legends. I get swept up in the sort of magic of it. I'm naturally quite a cynic. But if you're in these celebrations isn't quite lovely about it. My son is nine and he's also been learning about Welsh celebration about the colonic which is quite like trick or treating, where children used to go round houses on New Year's Day. And again, try and get, you know, bread or cheese, but they did this by having they'd all carry around these little things called colonics, which are apples sort of put on thorns and decorated with nuts and oats and seeds and they look quite sinister. They look like triffids or something.

CK: Now very few people know what a triffid is. I know because I've seen the movie 10 times. We just should comment, the the movies, the Day of the Triffids, right. Strange, large asparagus looking things walking around, right?

JR: Yes, its colonics just look like they look something out of a sci fi film but made in about 1970s. So, they look very homemade.

CK: So, why do you think they're all these traditions? We're talking about people going from house to house, you know, between let's say Christmas and 12th night with a horse skull or maybe wassailing in London, you know, singing We won't go until we get some, the kids with a dressed-up apples. All of it has a common theme. One theme is the sort of the wealthy gift to the poor. I guess it's part of it. The other is opening your door to people you normally wouldn't open your door to I guess, it's sort of a cross class moment, isn't it? I mean, so. Is that what's driving it? is there some commonality here? Yes,

JR: Yes, very possibly. You know, I think a big part of it is just you know, in the past, the winters are very long, and very desperate. And the pwnco rhyming, you know, it's mischievous, but it is a bit unnerving. And obviously, a horse's skull on a pole is pretty unnerving. So, there's an element of threat that I think that fascinates people, but you know, the in the in the winter, to have something that will give you a little bit of entertainment, but also hope, you know, if we do this, this might bring us luck for the new year. If we wassail if we hang toast to the trees, maybe you know, we'll have a good spring because you're in December and January, you've got it almost kind of invent things to hang on to a sense of hope. And so having something that the children could look forward to and make something towards, you know, people still want to have that connection with other human beings.

CK: Jude, thank you so much. I love this story. I love the tradition. I love the back and forth. I love talking about it. Thank you so much.

JR: Oh, you're welcome. Thanks for asking me to be on.

CK: That was journalist Jude Rogers. Her article for is called The Midwinter Majesty of the Mari Lwyd. Now it's time to answer some of your holiday baking questions with Cheryl Day. Cheryl is of course the owner of Back in the Day Bakery in Savannah, Georgia. She's also the author of Cheryl Day’s Treasury of Southern Baking.

Cheryl Day: So, Chris, I have started thinking about holiday traditions and my legacy in a different way. And for me, that means baking traditions. Typically, Griff and I always make fruitcakes, but I've never really made them for gifts. So, I'm starting to think about how I can pick a few friends and give them the recipe and make these fruitcakes. Do you like fruitcake?

CK: You know, the problem is people have had bad fruitcake,

CD: we're not talking about that one with the bright fruit.

CK: You’re thinking about glace maraschino cherries or something.

CD: Right, right no, that's not the kind of cake I'm thinking about.

CK: But the real deal is really, really good I love it.

CD: So, I start mine and like the end of October, like after Halloween, and then I keep feeding it with booze for months, and it just gets better and better. But yeah, we're not talking about those bright colored fruits, just things that you love. There's apple and apricots and dried fruit and just really good stuff. But I just love a really good fruitcake, and I remember growing up when I'd visit my grandmother in the south, if you were lucky, you would get one made in the same way. And then just really simply wrapped with the recipe. And I just thought that would be a really great gift to do and another legacy for folks to remember.

CK: If you could just like jot my name down there.

CD: I'll put you on my list to send you one and have to let me know what you think

CK: Looking forward to my fruitcake.

CD: Yeah.

CK: All right. Time for call. Welcome to Milk Street. Who's calling?

Caller: Hi, this is Mary Beth Flakes calling from Milton, Massachusetts.

CD: Hi, Mary Beth

CK: How can we help you?

Caller: My family has this unique, traditional, we call it grandma's Christmas cake. Although I've never really understood because it's nothing cake like. And my brothers, I have three brothers and we're all very nostalgic about the cake that we only eat once a year on Christmas morning. And my late grandmother on my dad's side made it and so we have competition to see who can make it the best. We've taken some liberties over the year to change somethings. But I've always been really curious, what is the origin of this cake for lack of a better word, there's got to be some story behind it before my grandmother started giving it to us every Christmas and now, we've recreated it.

CK: Well Cheryl knows I can make up anything. But you're going to have to describe the cake for her. So, what is it like?

CD: And where's the origin in your family?

Caller: So, it's from my dad's side. And my dad's side is Irish and there's some Poland in there and general East European, so a little bit of everything. But the cake is made it with a dough. Yeast cakes, it still says on the recipe card from my grandmother, which we fight every year. Is it like what does that translate to in instant yeast and the instant rise versus the regular? It's basically a dough with jelly in it, and then rolled up and put in a Bundt pan. And my grandmother used to put confectionery sugar, drizzle on the top with maraschino cherries all around it. We've forgotten the frosting on the top, we just do the jelly. But it just seems like a really unique kind of dessert that nobody I know seems to know anything about. And of course, whenever we give it to someone who's not related, if they don't have the desired appreciation that we like, we basically banish them forever.

CK: Oh, God, retribution at home. That's great. I love that.

CD: Oh, wow, where did grandma even get this?

CK: I just like to pause and say everyone talks about food bringing people together. But sometimes it's a great way to start an argument, you know, which, which is also fun you know so it can have both sides of it

CD: Especially around the holidays,

CK: especially around the holidays.

CD: Well, it sounds delicious first of all

CK: It's all it's probably a Gugelhupf and this is a German, Austrian, Eastern European thing, right. It's a yeasted cake. It's baked in a Bundt pan traditionally would have dried fruits in it, although this one has Jam, which is probably you know, riffing on that. That's yeah, my guess to what it is. But there are, you know, 100 versions of it. I think that's what we're looking at here. Cheryl?

CD: How fortunate that you have this family recipe though. That's incredible. And I mean, the actual recipe that works.

Caller: My father passed when I was eight, so we were all kids when we lost him so we really just like clung on to anything from his side of the family. You know, my younger self never asked my grandmother before she passed but why every year on Christmas. Was this the thing we had in Christmas morning.

CD: You said you roll the dough divide the dough.

Caller: No, we slice it like it's almost like a jelly roll.

CD: Oh, wow. That sounds delicious.

CK: Is there a lot of butter in this are using shortening or what?

Caller: Yeah, there's Crisco, which I don't see a lot of people fighting me for Crisco, you know, for baking around the holidays.

CD: They would here in the south.

CK: Have you ever made it with butter or a combination of butter and Crisco?

Caller: I haven't.

CD: I think you should do that this year.

CK: Or half and half yeah

CD: Yeah, that would be good.

CK: Yeah, the Crisco will keep it moister longer because butter tends to dry out sooner.

CD: But the flavor of the butter,

CK: A lot of these Gugelhupf it's an enriched yeast out and so which means it's a little brioche like you know, which means it's got a lot of butter in it.

CD: So, butters now kind of hurt.

CK: So, when did you ditch the maraschino cherries?

Caller: I don't know that we've ever done the maraschino cherries. So, like a little too much for me.

CD: You should get some of those fancy cocktail cherries that are soaked in bourbon.

CK: I have some upstairs. Yes.

Caller: There's been years when like someone of my brothers or I have done something, you know, blasphemy and tried to make it gluten free or (no no please don’t) you know, everybody revolts. And really, you know, I was reading about you Cheryl actually saw that you took on some jam making and yeah, I'm looking for the best strawberry jam there is to put in this cake so help me out.

CD: my strawberry chamomile would be incredible in that actually

CK: Cheryl gave me a few jars a year ago, and they lasted about three days. Marybeth, thank you so much. I think it's a Gugelhupf. But it sounds great.

Caller: Thanks so much. My brothers are going to be so excited.

CD: Yeah. Bye, bye.

CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you need help with your cakes and pies, give us a ring anytime. 855-426-9843 that's 855-426-9843 or simply email us at questions at Milk Street

CD: Welcome to Milk Street. Who's calling?

Caller: This is Tina.

CD: Where are you calling from Tina?

Caller: Hey, I'm in Westport, New York.

CK: How can we help you?

Caller: I have this recipe for spiral gingerbread cookies from my Danish grandmother. And I grew up with them. My mother used to make them all the time. And she's past. So, I can't ask her how she made the white dough, not to be crumbly. So that would roll out really easily. And I just can't seem to get it right and the dough just falls apart. And so, I'm hoping you can help me figure it out.

CK: Let's start with the texture of the dough. It falls apart because it's too dry and just crumbles when you try to roll it out. Is that the problem?

Caller: Yes.

CK: Well, the first thing I say this all the time is do you weigh your ingredients, or do you measure them by volume? Like the flour, for example.

Caller: I measure by volume.

CK: Yeah. Well, we just did this recently at Milk Street actually, we had a bunch of different people measure flour by the cup full. And the range was between, I think, four ounces and 5.3 ounces.

CD: Different every time.

CK: Yeah. So, I would say you'd want to weigh and a cup of all-purpose should be about four and a half ounces. That should help. The other question is, what's the ratio of butter and sugar to flour in the recipe you are using?

Caller: So, it's one cup of sugar, one cup of butter, and three cups of flour.

CK: You might increase the butter a little, but that's in the ballpark. Certainly. So, I just think there's too much flour in there.

CD: Yeah, I do to.

CK: You could also roll it out between two pieces of parchment paper. But I think it's just too much flour. Cheryl, what do you think?

CD: I agree. And the parchment trick definitely works. But I really do think it's going to be a simple fix. And then the great thing about that is once you figure out what the weight of the flour is, write it down, put it in your recipe and save that for the next family member that's going to be trying to crack this code.

Caller: Okay, thank you.

CD: Thanks for your questions.

CK: Take care.

Caller: Yep. Bye. Bye.

CD: Welcome to Milk Street who’s calling?

Caller: Hi, this is Kristen.

CD: Hi, Kristen. Where are you calling from?

Caller: I'm calling from Amherst, Massachusetts. So, I have a question about this. Christmas cookie. This was a staple of Christmas at my house growing up in the Boston area. We call them Kala Jones. I don't know how to spell that. No one knows. My aunt copied this recipe down from watching my grandma make it. Grandmama came from Rome. Yes. Every Christmas. This is was my breakfast. And I finally learned how to make them. But before I got the recipe, I tried finding some information about this Kala Jones and I couldn't find anything but that maybe you would have some insight. It's very weird. We call them chocolate raviolis. And there's a feeling that has walnuts, chestnuts, chickpeas, orange zest, lemon zest, semi-sweet chocolate and honey. And you mix that all together. Yep, the chestnuts are roasted it’s wonderful.

CD: What's the cookie part like

Caller: The cookie parts it's like an olive oil-based pie crust but with an egg and a little baking powder. And then you deep fry it in olive oil.

CD: Wow.

CK: That's cool.

CD: I want one right now.

Caller: Oh my gosh. Freshly fried their heavenly.

CD: Chris, have you heard of that?

CK: Yeah. This is a cookie from Southern Italy. There's a lot of spellings Quechuaneti or whatever but I think it's a combination of chocolate, hazelnuts, or chickpeas. Some sweeteners some orange zest, maybe some cinnamon in it, or some other spice. It is a real thing from Abruzzo. So, was it your mother grandmother from Rome? Is that where they got the recipe?

Caller: My father's mother yes

CK: So does your father also grow up in Rome?

Caller: He was born here. So, my grandma mom met my grandpa on the boat is the story (really). She was about 10 years older than he was. And so, we have a lot of recipes from grandmama that we just watched her cook things in the kitchen, and everybody wrote it down. And one of the stories is my mom would have to convert a cup, which was the cup in her kitchen, to the measuring cup, so that we could actually make her recipe.

CD: Oh, wow.

CK: So, let's go back to the romance here. So, they met on the boat. And then what happened? They got in touch years later, or that was it. Love at first sight?

Caller: No, no they got married. They came to Boston and made it as far as Watertown. And that's where my parents are met. And that's where I'm from. My parents still live there.

CD: Wow,

CK: That's a great story. Yeah.

Caller: What is this cookie called? Does it have her name?

CK: I think it's called Caggionetti. I'm probably mispronouncing it but cag or c a g g i o n e t t i. But I think there's a lot of you know, like most of these things. There’re eight different spellings right.

Caller: I found c____ which are close, but it has cheese. And not this filling it’s very it's almost like a little meal it’s hard to describe.

CD: I like chocolate ravioli. I think you should keep that name.

CK: Kristen, thank you so much. It's a great story.

Caller: yeah, great. Thanks for taking my call.

CK: I’ve got to go look this one up and try to make it so thank you.

CD: Thank you.

Caller: Bye.

CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio after the break holiday baking in Belgium. That's coming right up. This is Milk Street Radio. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. My next guest is Flemish food writer Regula Ysewijn her latest book is called Dark Rye Honey Cake Festival Baking from the Heart of the Low Countries. Regula welcome back to Milk Street

Regula Ysewijn: It's so good to be back. Thank you so much for inviting me on the show.

CK: Let's start. I never start this way but let's start with your name. Regula in Latin if I remember my eighth grade Latin means something about like regulations like law rule or whatever. And your last name Ysewijn you say translates to iron friend. So, you have a, you have a pretty serious name.

RY: Yes. Some people would say I'm lucky. Other people would say bless you darling with a name like that. And you know, it's certainly something you either remember it or you forget it immediately because it is too hard to remember. But you know, if you're into history, then of course, you're quite glad to have a serious name like that, you know, Latin 4th century. Yeah, it is it is quite, you know, the thing to have a name like that. And I'm quite proud of it. And I wasn't that happy with it when I was a child. But now I mean, Regula Iron friend it's quite cool, right?

CK: Yeah, no, I was Yeah, everyone's embarrassed by their name when they're young, but they grow into it. So, your book is Dark Rye Honey Cake Festival Baking from the Heart of the Low Countries. Let's start with what are the Low Countries.

RY: Well, the Low Countries is a North Sea coastal region in northwestern Europe. And historically, it's Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, French Flanders, and the German border regions. But for this book, I have focused on the heart of the Low Countries, which is the country I was born in Belgium and the border regions. Because of course, if you wanted to focus on the entire low countries, then you would need a couple of books.

CK: So, you talk about a whole year of festival baking. And there are lots of festivals so could just let's start around Christmas. Christmas, 12th Night, what are the festivals, what are the holidays around that time of year?

RY: Well, for me, it was very important to look at the feast because I found that the first printed cookbook in the Low Countries in my region, notable books Cokerera was published in 1510. And it was also dedicated to weddings and feasts throughout the years. So, I wanted to do the same. And of course, the calendar has changed a lot. So, if we speak about New Year, that would have been at Easter at certain points. So, it is interesting to see how this changes because of course, we have these brilliant festive loaves for the new year for Christmas. But it doesn't make any sense because those loaves contain a lot of eggs. And of course, during winter chickens would not lay as much eggs as they do in spring and summer. So, it made sense that in that period when those loaves were born that the New Year was at Easter, and that just makes everything fall into place, really. So, we have around Christmas, we have the volare if the devil scattered. And we have these beautiful speculaas biscuits, which are gingerbreads, which are mostly for St. Nicholas, one of the same feasts. Also St. Martin, who is in some places mixed with St. Nicholas.

CK: So, wait, wait wait who's St. Martin?

RY: Oh, St. Martin is is also a saint that is celebrated in some regions in Belgium. And his story is somewhat likened to that of St. Nicholas. So those two saints they get, you know, used interchangeable throughout the country. But St. Nicholas is the one that is now celebrated mostly throughout the Low Countries, he's the most important saint. Children will put out their shoes on the fifth, or the sixth, depending on the region on the evening and leaving things like carrots and beets and stuff for the for the horse because the saints always come on the horse. And then by the morning those carrots and beets will be gone. And there will be presents, and sweets. And those sweets are very important, of course, because it's the ginger breads. It's the tiny little spiced biscuits. And you know that feast is so important. And even though in the 16th century, during the Reformation, they tried to ban the feast. They couldn't because it was so rooted into our culture, that there were even riots in the streets of people demanding to keep their saints and their feast alive. And I find that really extraordinary. And that was a big inspiration for creating this book.

CK: So, help me out here. So, St. Nicholas has been around a long time. I think the sort of more modern Santa Claus is more of a Victorian English, I think, invention. How do the two intersect the story of St. Nicholas that goes back centuries and the sort of Santa Claus we know today.

RY: So interestingly, a lot of people from the current region of Belgium and the Netherlands we used to be one country for a couple of times during history. We, of course, went to America. And we were one of the first colonists. And we took of course, the our traditions of St. Nicholas with us to America, when we founded New York, which was called New Amsterdam before. And we took our traditions with us. And they got changed once he arrived in America. And there are still some sources that will say St. Nicholas. And then you can see that once they started to commercialize the feast, it becomes more Santa. And that's basically what it is. Santa then travels back to Europe, through mostly their connection with England, where, you know, Santa becomes also a big figure to celebrate, even though they didn't celebrate St. Nicholas. So, they adopted Santa. And then of course, Santa became known to us as well in these regions. So, it's really funny to see that it actually is the same figure that just traveled back to Europe.

CK: Was St. Nicholas viewed as being less cartoonish. Yes, and more of a real person on a horse. What does he look like? And what's what's the backstory there?

RY: Well, he is depicted not in in a cartoonish way. He has his his classical robes. He has a miter he looks very serious. And he has, of course, also this disciplinary function. So, St. Nicholas was a figure that we love but also feared. You know, he brought us presents and sweets, but only if we were good that year.

CK: Let's turn to food waffles, of course. The Belgian waffle everyone's heard of, especially if they went to the 1964 World's Fair in New York. But it obviously has a much more interesting history. So so what is a Belgian waffle or what are the different styles of waffles?

RY: Well, it's really interesting, isn't it because of course in the US, you know, the Belgian waffle and it always frustrates me because there is no Belgian waffle. We have so many different waffles. I mean, there's a waffle for every occasion basically. We have thick waffles, thin waffles, brittle waffles, soft waffles. There's so much there. But of course, because of that World Fair in in 1964, when the Brussels waffle was introduced, people think that that is the Belgian waffle. But the funny thing is that the waffle that was marketed at that fair is actually not the Brussels waffle, but it's the Flemish waffle. It just is a big misunderstanding then now of course, since that World Fair people have been traveling to to Belgium, asking for a Brussels waffle in the streets to eat standing as a street food. But in Belgium, that is something that we would never do. Because I mean, you just need to try and stand in a headwind with a waffle like that. I mean, it's dusted with so much icing sugar. If you get a wind, then you're completely full of icing sugar. And everyone I can see like tourists doing this, and then there's a wind and I'll just stay on watch and go like, oh my God, what's happening? I'm full of icing sugar, and then they start biting into the waffle, which is covered with cream and strawberries and sometimes even chocolate sauce. And you can see them thinking, how can I get this into my mouth because the waffle is incredibly thick. It's made to have properly on a plate in a tearoom with knife and fork. But there is one waffle which is also sometimes marketed as Belgian waffle which is meant to be eaten in the street. And that's the waffle from Liege but it has the topping basically on the inside because it's filled with like these beautiful nips of sugar. And that's all you need. So, it's baked. And the beauty in this is that when I was trying to create a recipe for my book, I made them, and I was like these are going to be the best waffles the Liege ever have eaten. And it was not because I there was one thing that I didn't take into account and that is that these waffles are eaten on the street, and they are baked. And then they are put into the iron again, to get baked again, because they need to be warmed up. And that creates a double baked effect an extra caramel outside of the waffle which is what makes it so magical and so beautiful. So, there's so many different waffles. I mean, there's there's 14 waffle recipes in my book in all shapes and sizes that we in Belgium, for example is funny thing. We have the glass for every type of beer. But we also have waffle irons for every type of waffle.

CK: Yeah, I've looked those up and they're they're pretty cool. I mean, in the old days, though, before you had the electric waffle iron it was it was a lot of work to make waffles, wasn't it?

RY: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, yeah, it's even interesting to see that if you look at the waffle iron how it opened, before people had kitchens is completely different. So, before people had kitchens, the waffle iron would would open like a tong, and then you can hold it in the fireplace. And then when the kitchens come into it, the waffle iron changes into opening like a book because people have kitchens, and they can put the waffle iron on the kitchen counter to put the batter inside and then bake it onto the stove. And then there's also the shapes of course. For example, in Belgium, we have two 15th century waffle irons, and they are the oldest known irons in the low countries. And one has the arms of the Burgundian Duke of John the Fearless on one side and the Star of David on the other side, and the other ones from Phillip the Good and the Lamb of God on the other side. And what they would do is if the Burgundian Dukes would come to a town for example, Ghent, they would cost the waffle iron and they would bake the waffles. And that would spread the news that the duke had come. So, the waffle it's incredible to see that the waffle irons were also created as a form of communication.

CK: Yeah, I find the idea of making waffles and sending out invitations, a lot more charming than texting. I'm sorry, that's there's something about that that is really appealing.

RY: I know. Right.

CK: So, I assume for a long time, people did not bake at home because they didn't have ovens. So, you go to the local bakery, and would you like in some places the world today like a Morocco in some places, you bring your yeasted bread in, leave it, they'd mark it so they knew who's who they bake it and you pick it up later, with some of this done at a town bakery?

RY: Well, extraordinarily because Antwerp was such an opulent place it was sugar capital of Europe in the 16th century, there was a middle class that was unseen in the rest of Europe. And they would have staff, they would, they would bake themselves. But other people, they would have to go to the bakery. And then there was some of the smaller towns would have communal baking ovens. But in bigger towns, that would be bakeries. And of course, there's a whole folk art connected to the bread as well. So, the baker would work with an artist who would create these fantastically fine white pie plate shields called patacones. And they were painted, they were printed for the bas relief and then painted and then baked onto these Verviers loaves, these big, big loaves and they were given to children. And you can see if you look at Flemish paintings from that period, 16th, 17th century and even on Bruegel you can see it. If you look very closely. Once you know it, you cannot unsee it, you will see children carrying something under their arm, something brown and that is the verviers loaf tops with those fine clay discs.

CK: For the holidays is there something from your book you would recommend people to make if they want to sort of get a sense of your style of cooking in the Low Countries? Is there a cookie, is their bread? Is there a biscuit, is there a waffle that sort of might be a good first step?

RY: Yes, that is always like choosing between my children, right? (I know, I know) But but I think if that wanted to choose one thing for people to really, really taste the taste of our Christmas and our holiday period, then I would choose one of our honey cakes or ginger breads, and you don't need a mold for all of them because a lot of them are freeform. So, I would choose the plain one the one from Houthulst which is fantastic because it's still very soft when it comes out of the oven. And it's something really nice to do with the family and the flavor is fantastic. And I would completely try and tell people to after they've baked one to just experiment with all the spices and find something that they love. It will fill your home with a beautiful scent of spices. And then having that first piece warm from the oven is just fantastic and I hope people will be able to experience that joy.

CK: Regula have a very Merry Christmas and I'll be making gingerbread this year. Thank you.

RY: I hope you do. Merry Christmas

CK: That was Regula Ysewijn author of Dark Rye and Honey Cake. You can find Regula’s recipe for Brussels waffles on Milk Street In 1964, I visited the New York World's Fair, and I remember only two things. The Pepsi pavilion it's a small world after all, and Belgian waffles topped strawberries and whipped cream. The memory is so powerful that to this day I make waffles every Sunday morning. But Regula Ysewijn reminds me that the true Belgian waffles which were served during the 12 days of Christmas are not one thing but actually many some are made with beer others of the Easter whipped egg whites the shapes were thick, and some were paper thin. Some were baked ones some were baked twice while some others were rolled up hot out of the iron and then filled with buttercream. Now one might complain that the World's Fair Belgian waffles were inauthentic. But they were an open door to another culture a marvelous first bite into the culinary unknown. And is it a good salesperson no is authentic or not. It's always the first bite that counts. I'm Christopher Kimball and this is Milk Street Radio. I'm joined now by Lynn Clark to talk about this week's recipe kolaches. Lynn how are you?

Lynn Clark: I'm doing well. Chris, how are you doing?

CK: Well as you know, at Milk Street, we have a long table and as the kitchen produces food, they put the food out and we taste it and talk about it. Well, there were some Danish out there a few weeks ago, which I avoided because I don't love Danish, they're just too sweet. I like sweet, but I don't like too sweet. So, I finally after a couple days, they kept coming out. And they looked a little different. So, I picked it up. It was very pillowy the dough, which I immediately loved. But it wasn't that sweet. You know, there was like more of a thumbprint of filling in the center. I just fell in love with them. And it turns out, they're kolaches. They're not Danish, which, I guess means that is the best Danish are not Danish. I mean, these are spectacular. So what are kolaches?

LC: Kolaches are actually a Czech pastry, so not Danish at all. And they're really popular in Texas, because the Czech population in Texas is one of the highest in the country. And that's because they emigrated in the 1800s for farming. And this was sort of a little handheld treat that they would have to carry out to the field with them to give them a little bit of sustenance. It's portable, it's pretty hearty. And like you said, it's not too sweet. So, you're not going to crash in an hour.

CK: But the thing that's nice is that also the dough, it's an enriched yeast dough but it's I don't know if word laminate is right, but it's puffier and softer, as opposed to a traditional Danish.

LC: Right, you know, a traditional Danish is done like a croissant. It's laminated with the butter block. And it's a really time consuming process. This one is really simple. You kind of just mix it together, you're wet and dry ingredients, there are eggs, and there is melted butter, which kind of incorporates a lot quicker than if you're using softened butter. And you just mix it all together, knead it for a while, so that it's got some structure, but it's still pretty sticky. And that's what gives it that really pillowy texture.

CK: Yeah, it's really good. And then the filling is like, it's not like a massive amount of sugar and filling. It's more a little dab will do ya in the center.

LC: Exactly. So, you kind of just make a little divot in a ball of dough. And in there, you put the filling. So, these are often either cheese or jam. Our version is both cheese and jam, because why not. So, it's a sweetened cream cheese with a little bit of lemon for some tartness that goes in that little divot, and then just store-bought jam any flavor you want. Another small dollop of that. It's mostly almost like a yeasted doughnut, but with a little bit of filling on the top of it.

CK: You know, for the holidays, a lot of families have some sort of enriched bread or pastry for breakfast, and they put it out my tradition is homemade soda bread, which I pack with butter and jam on top, so you can't even see the bread. This would be a really good alternative because it's the right mixture of sweet and pillowy yeast dough. And as the dough itself that's just so spectacular. So, this year, maybe I'll have to make both what do you think?

LC: Sounds like a plan to me.

CK: So, the best Danish, I don't know may not be Danish, it may be Czech. Thank you, Lynn.

LC: You're welcome. You can get the recipe for kolaches at Milk Street

CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio coming up the history of holiday drinks and their very strange names. That's coming up in just a moment. I'm Christopher Kimball and you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Now it's time for some culinary wisdom from one of our listeners.

Caller: Howdy. I'm Joshua, and when I'm baking, I always forget to take my eggs out of the fridge ahead of time, but I recently figured out a great way to warm them up in a jiffy for recipes that need room temperature ingredients. Simply put one or two eggs between your hands and roll them quickly back and forth under the hottest running tap water you can tolerate. It takes about two minutes or maybe even a little more, but your eggs will be room temperature before you know it. I hope this is useful.

CK: By the way, if you'd like to share your own cooking tip here on Mill Street Radio, please go to 177 Milk tips. This is mostly radio right now let's check in with Grant Barrett and Martha Barnett host of A Way with Words. Hey, Grant and Martha happy holidays. How are you?

Martha Barnette: Happy Holidays, Chris.

Grant Barrett: Happy Holidays, Chris. We're doing great.

CK: So, what's up this week?

MB: Well, Chris, today we're thinking about settling in with a hot drink in front of a glowing fireplace or curling up with a good book, which is something we wish for everybody this holiday season. And we've been digging into the history of hot drinks that you might sip during the holidays. Now of course, there's mulled wine and some people like to heat their eggnog. But they're also if you look back at history, there have been so many other kinds of drinks to take the chill off.

CK: Well, I have to say I'm a bit biased is not the right word. But I used to have a Swedish friend and it was always glug around the holidays.

GB: Yeah, glug this is like a punch almost.

CK: Yeah, it's a little on the sweet side hangovers are me when it comes to glug. So yeah, it was good. But it was like I don't want anything too sweet in my hot drink. But are there other drinks? I would like more.

GB: Yeah, there might be so glug is it’s got wine and spices. And this reminds me of a classic drink that my father used to give me when I was very young and had a sore throat. The hot toddy. (Oh, yeah). Which is the warm mix of whiskey or brandy with sugar and spices. And that toddy word is curious because it comes to us from the Indian subcontinent where many of the local languages include very similar words to toddy and they mean palm wine (really) or some other alcoholic drink yeah

CK: I didn't that.

GB: So, it's something that the British brought back from from India.

MB: Yeah, and you know, people also used to warm up with a couple of hot drinks that involve mixing brandy and ale. There was one called hot pot and another one called Humpty Dumpty, because you dump the two liquids together. But you know, Chris, if I were trying to warm up back in the 1800s, I think I would have opted for the hot drink called Huggle my buff or Huckle my butt.

CK: I hate to ask about the origins of that term. What is that? Well,

MB: Well, I can tell you that this hot drink is composed of bub, which is also known as beer plus brandy, eggs, sugar, and spices. And Chris, you will be pleased to know that there's an old drinking song about Huckle my butt that has a whole lot of verses to it.

CK: As any good drinking song does. I would add.

GB: Some of them aren't radio safe at all.

MB: Right. You can just picture people swinging a mug in great foamy arcs. But for example, one of the verses goes Huckle my butt, huckle on my butt. Come brew me a bowl of right Huckle my butt, first pour in the bub. Brisk and Brown as a nut. Brandy, eggs, sugar spice for that's huckle my butt.

GB: Martha reads like an NPR host and not like a drunkard

CK: Can I just point out the two of you should have had a huckle my butt before you started the segment.

MB: Who said we didn’t yeah

GB: Or should not have

CK: Or should not have yeah. So, it sounds to me like these hot drinks were really good at disguising the poor quality of the underlying alcohol, right? I mean if you put spices and other stuff in there.

MB: I think that makes a lot of sense. You know, they they would load up these drinks with all kinds of things. I mean, I'm thinking for example of Bishop, which is a mixture of port and sugar and cloves and spices and usually oranges or lemons, sometimes it's called Smoking Bishop because the citrus slices are roasted until they're blackened. And you may remember in Charles Dickens book A Christmas Carol, on Christmas day when Ebenezer Scrooge has had his epiphany and he's running around all joyful. He claps Bob Cratchit on the back, and he promises to raise Bob’s salary and look after the family. And he tells Bob, we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon over a Christmas bowl of smoking Bishop Bob.

CK: Oh, well I knew Bishop rang a bell so that that must be the bell it rang.

MB: Speaking of bells. It's it's one of several drinks that in their time were known as ecclesiastics. I'm thinking of church bells because they were names that poked fun at the Catholic Church. Bishop was one or you might swap out the port for champagne or Tokay wine and you were sipping a pope or if you settled for really cheap wine like like ginger wine and weak tea, then you were drinking a church warden, just the lowly church warden. But yeah, I suspect that you are correct, that they not only had the function of warming you up, but also all those spices were disguising what might have been kind of inferior beverage.

CK: Punch was also something that was aged, wasn't it? As I remember, they would make a punchbowl and it would sit for a week or two.

GB: Oh, goodness, I don't know if I want any part of that. Well, you know, that was a drink called Tom and Jerry, which actually might be the source of the name for the cartoon cat and mouse (really) which used to sit on the bars and taverns and pubs. It was kind of a whipped-up egg froth with cinnamon, huge amounts of sugar, cloves, all spice, and it would just appear on every bar around Christmas. And so to heat your mug, you would dip it in boiling water first, and then scoop up some of the thick mixture. And then add a jigger of rum and there was a Tom and Jerry

CK: Oh, I like that. Well, why is it the British always are able to come up with the best names, right? I mean, and they also did rhyming games, right? A lot of this a lot of the vernacular was things that sounded similar, and they come up with something totally different, right?

GB: Yeah, like brandy is sometimes called Andy Pandy. That's Andy Pandy.

CK: Ah, the British. Charles Dickens, a book, a warm fire. And a hot drink. Guys, you made my holidays. Take care.

MB: Cheers, Chris

GB: Thanks, Chris. Happy holidays.

CK: That was Grant Barrett and Martha Barnette hosts of A Way with Words. Well, that's it for today to explore Milk Street and everything we have to offer this holiday season. Please go to 177 Milk There you can become a member and get full access to every recipe and free standard shipping from the Milk Street store and more. You can also find us on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Instagram at 177 Milk Street. We'll be back next week with more food stories and cooking questions. And thanks for listening and wishing you a very happy holiday season.

Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is produced by Milk Street in association with GBH co-founder Melissa Baldino, executive producer Annie Sensabaugh. Senior Editor Melissa Allison, producer Sarah Clapp, Associate Producer Caroline Davis with production help from Debby Paddock. Additional editing by Sidney Lewis. Audio mixing by Jay Allison and Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole Massachusetts. The music by Toubab Krewe, additional music by George Brandl Egloff, Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is distributed by PRX.