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Russian Christmas Feast: Customs & Recipes
December 30, 2010 14:01

On the night of the 6th to 7th January the Orthodox Church celebrates the holy Christmas. For over a month prior to the holiday believers observe the Advent, i.e. Christmas fast.

In former times people would prepare for Christmas well in advance: they would spring-clean the house, set up and decorate a fur-tree, and do numerous preparations for the festive table. On the Christmas Eve people usually abstained from meal till late evening - “till the first star”.

Christmas table is decorated in a special way. There is a custom of putting a little of hay or straw under the tablecloth to remind of the manger where little Jesus was born. Under the table they put some iron object, which all those sitting at the table keep their feet on one after another in order to be healthy in the coming year, since iron symbolizes health and strength. At last, the first star arises in the frosty Christmas sky and it should be met with tasting the special Christmas dish of sochivo (similar to the Russian word Sochelnik meaning “Christmas Eve”).


The family and guests are treated to all sorts of snacks and appetizers, both meat and fish ones, aspic and jelly. And, of course, hardly any Christmas table could do without a roasted goose with apples. Roasted poultry was the star attraction of the Christmas table. Chicken is served cold, whereas goose or duck is served hot. Cold fowl is garnished with pickles, tomatoes and greens, and hot fowl is accompanied with fried potatoes and separately served salads with cucumbers, tomatoes, cabbage, fresh and pickled cucumbers, brined apples and cowberries. In every house for Christmas they baked pies, spice cakes, and kolyadki - special Christmas small pies of unleavened rye dough with various stuffings, which were also treated to those who were going round singing kolyadki - Christmas carols.

In some Russian provinces it was a custom on Christmas to bake special oat pancakes. They were offered as a treat to acquaintances and relatives. Oats in general was considered to be one of the symbols of Christmas festivities. Basil’s Eve, i.e. the New Year’s Eve in the old style, was called Ovsen’ (after the Russian ovyes for “oats”).

For desserts dwellers of northern Russian provinces baked kozuli (“goats”) – fancy cookies shaped as cows, lambs, nanny-goats, or deer. In every house women together with children hand-molded the sweet figurines and the tradition was passed on from one generation to another. Versions of kozuli pastry varied from simple fresh rye pastry to rich gingerbread dough with butter and egg yolks.

The favourite traditional drink for warming up on Christmas and actually all the winter through was the balmy and spicy sbiten. Children were served its nonalcoholic variant, whereas adults could revel in strong sbiten, mixed with beer, brandy, vodka or wine.

Christmas table in any Russian house looked very festive. It often remained dished-up throughout all the Christmas-tide (12 days from Christmas to the Epiphany), and all sorts of entertainments were set out in expectation of guests or folks going round carol-singing.


Russian Christmas Recipes


Ingredients (serves 4 to 6 people):
Raisins – half a glass,
Wheat grains - 1 glass
Honey - 1 glass
Shelled walnuts - 1 glass
Poppy seeds - 3 tablespoonfuls

Rinse wheat grains and put them in a cast-iron or ceramic pot, add water in the ratio 1 to 2, cover it with a lid put in the oven heated to 150 centigrade and leave for about an hour, until the water is fully absorbed. If the grains are still hardish add a little boiling water and keep in the oven for a little longer.

Mix honey with 3 or 5 tablespoonfuls of water and heat it a little but do not bring to boiling temperature. Soak raisins in hot water for 20 to 30 minutes, then remove water and let them dry. Similarly, soak poppy seeds in boiling water for 20 minutes, drain water through a sieve, and then grind the seeds in a mortar. Crush the walnuts.

Pour warm honey on the boiled wheat grains and mix with raisins, nuts and poppy seeds. The dish should be succulent with honey pouring that will properly soak the grains and also remain at the bottom of the dish.

Serve sochivo warm.

Goose or Duck with Apples

1 goose (or 1 duck),
1 to 1,5 kg apples,
2 tablespoonfuls drawn butter,
Salt to taste.

Pluck the bird’s trunk, wash it thoroughly, rub in a little salt and stuff with apples cleared of the cores and sliced. Sew the opening up with a thread. Place the goose (duck) with its back down on a frying pan, add half glass water and put it in an oven to roast. While the goose is roasting do not forget to pour it with its melted fat and juice from time to time. Roasting will take 1.5 to 2 hours. When the goose is ready, remove the thread, put the fowl on a dish and decorate with the sliced lemon and greens. Can be served with sauerkraut as a garnish.

Christmas Gingerbread Kozuli

Rye flour 400 gram
Wheat flour 300 gram
Milk 1 glass
Honey - 1 glass
5 egg yolks
Sugar - 2 tblspf
Mixture of ground spices (cinnamon, cardamom, carnation, and anise) 2 tspf
Soda – ½ tspf
Drawn butter - 4 tblspf
For icing:
1 egg white or a little water
1 glass sugar powder
Beetroot or cranberry juice

Heat milk and butter to 60–70°, stir, add honey, egg yolks pounded with sugar, spices, sifted rye and wheat flour and soda. Knead the dough, battering it on the table. Roll a layer 1 cm thick, and cut figurines of horned animals with a knife, or use special cookie moulds.

Spread the figurines on a baking sheet at the distance of 1 cm from each other and to put in an oven heated to 200 ° for 10–12 minutes.

To make the icing mix an egg white or a little water with sugar powder. Some part of the icing can be mixed with beetroot or cranberry juice and used for ornamentation of kozuli. Cool down baked kozuli, cover them with icing and decorate with red coloured icing.

Oat Pancakes

Whole oat flour 300-400 gram
Milk 2 glasses
Fresh yeast 10 gram
6 egg yolks
4 egg whites
Butter 2 tblspf
Sugar 2 tspf

Sift the flour and heat milk up to 35-37 °. Dissolve yeast in a small portion of milk and leave it for 10 minutes. Mix flour with remaining milk, add yeast, put in a warm place and to let it rise for 30 minutes. Add yolks pounded with sugar and salt, and mix with melted butter. Once again stir thoroughly. Whisk egg whites and mix them carefully and quickly with the dough using a wooden paddle.

Bake the pancakes on a frying pan and keep in mind that oatmeal pancakes are brittle as compared to wheat pancakes, so use a broad paddle for turning them over.



Dough ingredients:
2 glasses rye flour (or 1 glass rye and 1 glass wheat flour)
1 glass of liquid (water, milk, curdled milk, and sour cream that can be mixed in any proportions)

Knead the dough, cover with a napkin and leave it for 20 to 30 minutes. Afterwards cut it into equal pieces and roll thin flat cakes of round or oval form and fill them with stuffing. Bake kolyadki at the temperature of 200-220 centigrade. When they are ready, grease them with melted butter or butter mixed with sour cream.

Potato Stuffing:

7-8 potatoes,
2-3 tablespoonfuls of butter,
1 egg,
Salt to taste.

Boil and pound potato, add butter, egg, and salt and beat up to a creamy mass.

Carrot stuffing:

300 gram raw carrots,
1 teaspoonful of sugar,
1 teaspoonful of butter,
Salt and lemon juice to taste.

Grate carrots and add 2-3 tablespoonfuls of water, as well as butter, sugar, salt and lemon juice. Cover with a lid and boil a little, stirring from time to time.

Cottage Cheese Stuffing:

100 gram fresh cottage cheese,
1 egg yolk,
Sugar ½ tspf,
Salt to taste.

Carefully pound cottage cheese with an egg yolk, sugar and salt to homogeneous mass.

Cheese stuffing:
150 gram cheese,
1 raw egg,
1 hard-boiled egg,
1 bunch of parsley, fennel or celery.

Grate cheese and add finely chopped fennel, parsley or celery, and the eggs.

Mushroom Stuffing:

1 kg of fresh mushrooms,
½ glass of sour cream,
1-2 tblspf of butter,
1 onion,
Fennel or parsley greens.

Carefully rinse mushrooms and boil them, then fry in butter and add separately fried onion and sour cream, salt to taste and stew under a lid for 20 minutes. Bring mushrooms to cool, and add finely chopped parsley and fennel.

Porridge Stuffing:

1 glass of millet (pearl barley or buckwheat will do as well),
2 glasses of milk or water,
2 tblspf butter,
Salt to taste.

Rinse millet and pour in milk or water, add butter and salt and boil to make short porridge.

Enjoy Russian Christmas Feast!

Try other recipes of Russian cuisine!




Tags: Russian Cuisine     

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