By Jen Manglos
It was my family’s worst Christmas ever. No, I’m not saying that for dramatic effect. It truly was. We were in the mist of my brother’s struggles with depression and suicide. He was in the mental hospital and furious at my parents for putting him there. And a Merry Friggin’ Christmas to you too!
I struggled to just let Christmas be crappy. I tried my hardest to inject some cheer into the season. My previous Christmas in England (I lived there that last year) was a lonely time spent missing my family so much. I just wanted to redeem Christmas. Except, it’s hard to redeem a holiday when your current holiday experience is infinitely worse than the one you’re trying to recover from. Hey, but sometimes we just want to avoid what’s really going on. On Christmas Eve I decided to cook a feast for my parents. I was eager to make some of the food I’d discovered in England and one of those meals was The Hamlet.*
Traditionally, Christmas in England is full of mulled wine, mince pies, and Christmas cake (gross cake with a layer of marzipan). Now, The Hamlet is not a holiday meal, but it is a perfect meal for a cold night. It is the ultimate comfort food, flaky puff pastry, cream cheese, and ham all baked together. I decided to bring a taste of England to my family that night, or rather, a taste of my experience in England (seriously, if it was just British food for dinner that would be pretty grim – excepting of course their cheese selections and how they pour warm custard on all their desserts …yum). So I included a few of the British Christmas staples along with The Hamlet and the menu was set.
For a moment, our sadness lightened, just a little, as we feasted. The food was warm and comforting and we said very little as it ministered to our aching hearts. Even though it was a product of my desire to avoid the painful realities around me, the meal was a welcome break from our sadness that year.
Our Christmas’ have lightened throughout the years, but we all still hold the memory of how hard that year truly was. The Hamlet has become this unexpected Christmas Eve tradition in our house since then. It’s a reminder of sad times, but it also speaks to the simple joys found in a good meal.
The Hamlet recipe
-1 brick of cream cheese (sometimes I’ll add in more cream cheese than that; if I do both sheets of puff pastry I’ll usually do 3 bricks)
-1 sheet of puff pastry
Soften cream cheese in microwave. Dice green onions (1-2 stalks) and add to cream cheese. Slice ham into small pieces and add to cream cheese. Mix it all together. Add Dijon mustard, to taste. Start with 1-2 tablespoons and go from there.
Roll out sheet of puff pastry, flouring the surface lightly. You’ll want it thinner than its original state, but not overly thin. When puff pastry is all rolled out, spoon out cream cheese mixture down the center, leaving a bit of space at the top and bottom. Take a knife and cut through the puff pastry sides down the length of the pastry. Alternate folding pieces on top. Brush the entire thing with an egg wash. Bake according to puff pastry instructions, but usually 400-415 for 20-30 minutes.
*I recently named this dish the Hamlet. It actually never had a name and every time someone would ask what it was called I would awkwardly explain that it was a meal my Danish friend used to eat in boarding school and it had puff pastry, cream cheese, ham, and other stuff. Typically, I would receive confused looks back. Last fall I was making it and finally decided that it needed a name. And then it came to me – The Hamlet. Because (a) it is made with ham, and (b) Hamlet is the prince of Denmark, where my friend who gave me the recipe is from (sadly, she no longer can eat this because she is gluten free). I still feel proud about my brief moment of food naming skill.