Thursday, December 25, 2008

World Peace, the Good Book and the Christmas Incarnation

Bake-a-thons give rise (pun!) to much time for somewhat random thinking.

Korova/World Peace/Very Chocolate Cookies about to be tied with ribbon
This year's Christmas cookies were born of amalgamated instructions* for Pierre Hermé/Dorie Greenspan's Korova or World Peace Cookies and David Lebovitz's promo of Clotilde Dusoulier's Very Chocolate Cookie. In Baking: My Home To Yours, Dorie explains:
When I included these in Paris Sweets, they were called Korova Cookies and they instantly won fans, among them my neighbor Richard Gold, who gave them their new name. Richard is convinced that a daily dose of Pierre's cookies is all that is needed to ensure planetary peace and happiness.
The cookies did indeed elicit sms-es containing many exclamation marks (and not all of them of the ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL ME?! YOU ARE PAYING MY HOSPITAL BILLS! variety either). Can totally imagine Dorie togged out in Miss World/Universe tiara and sash handing the plate around in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan and few other little 'stans, with glasses of cold milk.

Korova/World Peace/Very Chocolate Cookies
But we know that world peace isn't quite a matter of having the right sort of confectionery in hand, a cup of hot tea on the lap and a sit-down. And we know that only Jesus will bring real world peace when he comes again to inaugurate a world where:
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den.
They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9)
Well, world peace for those who'd acknowledged him as Lord in this world at any rate.

Had always considered Jesus' first coming as a bit of a deus ex machina set in a modern musical: world fallen and under judgement because of man's sin, the imminent consummation of God's wrath, then the fortuitous arrival of Jesus descending on a platform, rapping: if there's a problem yo I'll solve it check out the hook while my DJ revolves it.

So the Christian life had seemed like a glorious play with audience participation. All real of course but yet with a certain invisible-theatre-like distance. If I'd been given a time machine for Christmas, I'd have set the dial for around 30AD, just so's to get a firsthand gob at Jesus y'see.

But the thinking was flawed. It was based on the same presumptions as the other thought experiment of the nativity taking place in the 21st century: of Jesus on Facebook, of several million photos and videos of Jesus doing miracles and teaching on Flickr, of thousands MSN-ing him to clarify issues (or asking him to get their brothers to share their inheritance with them), of the disciples Twittering away after running off from the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark: OMG! Soldiers arrested J. Managed to run away but nekkid!); the presumption that if we could only put our finger through the wounds in his hand and have a wriggle around in the holes in his side, we would believe or be able to have a more intimate relationship with Jesus than we have now.

Au contraire, said Jesus to Thomas,"Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."(John 20:29). During Jesus' time on earth, there were many who saw and heard and touched him but not all believed. And there were many who followed him, but they could not understand what he was saying until God allowed their minds to be open to receiving such revelation (Luke 10:21-22). It is a grave error to imagine that it is man's effort and faculties that are the catalyst for salvation rather than the whole work and grace of God alone.

Christmas Cookie Packs
While physical proximity to Jesus is unimportant to our faith, proximity to his word in the Bible is of utmost importance. It is the word of God that is the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17) to wage war against the dominion of sin and darkness. Yet, quick and powerful, sharper than double-edged sword, it also judges us, penetrating even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow, to weigh the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12). It is the Scripture alone that is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). It is the word that truly reveals the Word to us. In The Incomparable Christ, John Stott quotes Erasmus as saying "The Bible will give Christ to you in an intimacy so close that he would be less visible to you if he stood before your eyes."**

It seems to me then that Christmas shall be most profitably and properly spent with the birthday boy, meeting through his word.***

*Note to self:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup Valrhona cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
156g unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel
1 teaspoon vanilla or chocolate extract
140g bittersweet chocolate (Valrhona Guanaja), chopped into chunks

Over-creaming will result in flatter biscuit. Use non-non-stick baking parchment for best insulation and friction. Remove cookies from baking tray and baking parchment as soon as possible for a less soggy base.

**Suspect the conflation of The Word with the word of God is quite right but that's probably another post. Also have a theory that the incarnation took place at that particular time in human history after writing had been "invented" but before the saturation of the democratic media so that the focus could be on the authoritative word (written/spoken) alone.

Clementine & Almond Syrup Cake. Ottolenghi Recipe.*** that is until one realises that one has yet to do some sort of dessert for the night's dinner and happily, comes across an Ottolenghi recipe for Clementine & Almond Syrup Cake on the internets. Because my friends are nothing but encouraging, one exclaimed of the strips of orange zest:"There are maggots on top of the cake!" Then there was a round of applause when the knife sliced easily through the confection - "Well, things could be worse; it could have been a rock cake!" the nearest explained. "We must be grateful for small mercies!" agreed another.

Liked the citrus fragrance, the sticky sweetness of the orange and lemon syrup caramelised on the edges of the cake and the moist ground almond textured interior. The coating of melted good dark chocolate (mixed with a tablespoon of Cointreau) add a nice finish to overall experience. Of the assembled guinea pigs, several said it was actually good and very nice, and others, after being rather dodgified by the ground almond, thought it rather rich and too moist.

Notes to self: skip baking parchment next time. Used only 200g of caster sugar for the cake which was just right. Replaced cognac with Cointreau in icing. If baking for other people, reduce height for drier cake (bleah).

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