This is basically the same recipe as my heirloom personalised Christmas cake recipe, but without all the waffle. If you want to know more about ingredients or if you have any questions about lining tins or what booze to use, etc, do check it out. If, however, you want a nice, easy step by step recipe to follow, then read on.
There are now just nine weeks until Christmas (sorry). I wouldn’t normally be bandying the C word about so early, but in this instance, it’s necessary – if you want to make sloe gin, you need to do it now. Sloes (sometimes called Blackthorn berries) are perfect right now, although there’s a school of thought that says they’re better after the first frost and I couldn’t honestly tell you if there’s been a frost yet. I’d say not as it’s been a really mild start to October. No matter, pick them and shove them in the freezer overnight. It does the same thing.
IT’S NEARLY HERE! If you’re hosting Christmas lunch/dinner this year, here is everything you need to do, including lots of tips to make it stress free and ensure you spend your precious time with your family and friends, and not too much chained to the oven! Remember, don’t panic, and just think of it as a roast dinner on a slightly larger scale.
Before you start, grab a cuppa and have a read through:
My children love our weird dinners (not). The other night, we were testing Marks and Spencer’s new range of party food. Their dinner was entirely made up of canapés, which although seems very posh, is actually quite strange. The good news is, though, that the party food is REALLY good, so we didn’t mind at all. And we thought it would be even better if you actually used it all as intended, y’know, for parties…
Now Christmas is in full swing, I seem to be baking mince pies nearly every day. I always feel a bit sorry for Charlie, though, who doesn’t like mince pies and so tends to head for the biscuit tin instead. I decided to have a fiddle with my normal cookie recipe to come with something a little more festive.
So you might be one of those people that LOVES cooking for people at Christmas (like me) or you might be one who dreads it every year. Either way, the best way to get through that dinner is to cheat as much as possible. Here are my top five Christmas dinner hacks to give you more time with your family and friends, and less time at the oven and sink on the big day.
The thing about home baking is that it should be a joy. My favourite times are spent in my kitchen – pinny on (Cath Kidston, a treasured present from my friend Taralara), oven on, flour everywhere, radio playing, people popping in and out for a chat or a quick taste – it’s my therapy. I’d go mad without it. Someone once told me that you should never bake when you’re miserable – nothing goes right – cakes don’t rise, things don’t taste right… it’s because the baking picks up on your mood, and I completely believe that’s true.
There’s nothing quite like that first mince pie of the season, is there? Yesterday I popped to TK Maxx and picked up a couple of bits including this AMAZING ceramic bun tin and a cute little freeform bowl. Time for some baking, then:
So have you seen the Waitrose Christmas advert? We love the story of little Ellie, the reluctant baker, who ends up mastering the art of gingerbread baking for her school fete.
Waitrose have challenged me to get involved with their #bakeitforward campaign, to spread a little love and Christmas cheer to some people I really care about by baking them a special treat. I love decorating biscuits, it’s so Christmassy – so here are my cute little chocolate Christmas tree biscuits. This dough is perfect for cutting out shapes as it doesn’t spread in the oven – it’s really easy to make too.
So tomorrow (23rd November 2014) is stir up Sunday. If you’d like to cook a Christmas pudding this weekend – or if it’s any other date and you’re arriving here from the future, in which case HELLO FUTURE PEOPLE! – here’s my easy peasy step by step way to do it.
If you’re looking for an easy Christmas eve supper, or something yummy to serve with drinks when you have guests, look no further than very simple to throw together sausage roll recipe. The filling is my easy apple and red onion stuffing, which can be baked separately and served along with your turkey, but also makes a lovely, moist filling for pies and these easy sausage rolls. So first, make the stuffing:
Easy apple and red onion stuffing:
(serves 4-6, double up as necessary):
1 tbsp butter
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 dessert apple, grated (don’t bother to peel)
225g pork sausage meat (or you can use the innards of sausages)
100g fresh white breadcrumbs
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 tbsp fresh sage, chopped
Squeeze of lemon juice
375g pack ready to roll puff pastry
Heat the butter in a frying pan, add the onion and fry gently until soft. Add the apple and cook until softened. Remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl and allow to cool.
Stir the sausage meat and breadcrumbs into the onion mixture along with the herbs and lemon juice.
Now, grab a nice pack of all butter puff pastry (life’s too short to make your own, I find, although if you really want to, I’ve got a rough puff recipe here which isn’t too labour intensive).
Roll the puff pastry out to a nice big rectangle (you need the thickness to be about 1/2 cm), then squish your sausagemeat down the middle in a big fat sausage.
Now, brush the edges with beaten egg, then flap the first edge over the sausagemeat. Brush that one with egg again, then fold over the second flap, so you’ve created one big, long sausage roll. Turn that roll over so that the seam is at the bottom. For a supper dish, it’s nice to keep it whole and slice at the table, but if you’re wanting individual bite-sized ones for a party, cut them now with a serrated edged knife, then score the top and brush with egg.
Bake at gas 4/180 degrees for about 25 – 30 minutes until golden brown and crispy. If you’re cutting your sausage into individual pieces, they’ll only take about 20 minutes.
Ah I’ve absolutely loved looking through all the amazing bakeoff entries. Now it’s down to our lovely judge Catriona to choose a winner to receive all those lovely Yeo Valley goodies. Good luck everyone!
So Mr English is home and the Christmas preparations can begin in earnest. His favouritest thing in the whole world at Christmas time is a home made mince pie. If you’ve only ever bought them, you’re missing a trick – they’re very easy and they make the whole house smell divine. I love scenting the pastry with the zest and juice of a clementine, or you could try a teaspoon of cinnamon too, or just leave it plain – it’s your pie. Here’s what you’ll need:
200g cold butter
400g plain flour
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 clementine or tangerine, zest and juice (optional)
Cold water and a tablespoon (have them ready)
First, then, cut your butter into little cubes and pop it into the food processor with the flour, sugar and a pinch of salt:
Mix gently until it resembles breadcrumbs:
Now add the egg and the clementine juice and zest and let it continue stirring gently until the mixture just comes together. Add a couple of tablespoons of cold water as it’s coming together so you end up with a nice, soft dough. Obviously you can do this by hand if you don’t have a food processor.
Form the dough gently into two balls, clingfilm them and put them into the fridge for 20 mins. Don’t leave them too long – rock hard pastry is not the easiest thing to handle. One ball should make 12 pies.
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees/gas 5 and get ready to mess with your mincemeat. Now, don’t get me wrong – normal mincemeat in a jar is fine, but let’s face it, there’s not much in life that can’t be improved with a bit of alcohol (trust me, it’s not time that’s a great healer, it’s booze), so splosh some in: I’m loving Pedro Ximenez at the moment, but anything will do: port, cherry brandy, Cointreau – whatever you have to pep it up. I also add a handful of dried cranberries because I like the colour. I’m also partial to a glacé cherry or two. But don’t bother if you don’t want to.
So now, just roll the pastry out and use a cutter to make circles. Pop the circles gently into a muffin tin and put a scant teaspoon of your boozy mincemeat in each one. Don’t overfill or they’ll ooze everywhere and be very difficult to get out of the tin (sorry for the blurry picture – sticky hands) :
Now you can either cut out another slightly smaller circle to use as a lid, or just cut out something festive like a star or a tree, and pop on the top. Now, pass the whole kit and caboodle onto the Eggy Wash Department (you’ll need a small, willing child for this – just use a little lightly beaten egg to paint over the pies and add a sprinkle of sugar):
Bake for about 10 – 15 minutes and that’s it, you made pies! Give yourself a quick round of applause, then serve with more booze in the shape of some warm, mulled wine, or a lovely cup of tea. And now you’ve got into the swing of it, try mixing it up. The tree ones at the top were made in a deep-fill muffin pan with a plain cutter. Or try topping your pies with sponge mixture like my festive pastry cakey pies.
If you’re thinking about baking mince pies this Christmas (you’ll find my clementine and mincemeat cakey pie recipe here), we should really spare a thought for all those mincemeat haters. When you’re popping your pies in the oven, leave a couple of the pastry shells empty (or indeed just make a whole batch of shells), scrunch up a square of greaseproof paper and pop in a handful of baking beans.
When you take your mince pies out of the oven you’ll have a few extra shells ready to fill with something non-mincemeaty. For a festive option, why not try making my cranberry and clementine curd? Double the quantity and buy some nice clip-top jars (I got mine from jarsandbottles-store.co.uk) and it makes a fabulous gift too.
You will need:
300g pack fresh or frozen cranberries
150g caster sugar
2 large free range eggs plus 1 extra yolk
Put the whole pack of cranberries into a saucepan. Peel a couple of big strips of zest off each of the clementines and add that in too, then squeeze them and pour in the juice. Bring the mixture to the boil, then allow it to gently simmer for about five minutes or until the cranberries are soft.
Take it off the heat and pour it into a sieve over a bowl. Give the mixture a good squish to get as much juice out as possible, then measure the juice back into the saucepan. You need 6 tablespoons of juice – if you don’t have enough, add a bit more clementine or lime juice.
Add in the butter and caster sugar and stir gently on a low heat until the butter is all melted and the sugar has dissolved.
Meanwhile, in a clean bowl, whisk the eggs and yolk until well combined (if you’re being restauranty here, you can sift the egg to remove any lumps of white).
Take the juice/butter mixture and gently pour a little bit into the egg, whisking all the time, then a bit more, then a bit more, until you’ve combined about half of it with the eggs.
Pop that lot back into the saucepan and keep whisking and gently cooking until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon. If it’s really not going to thicken, you can help it along by popping in another egg yolk and whisking again until it does. Remember it will continue to thicken as it cools.
If you’re potting it up, make sure your jars are sterilised (good sterilising advice from my friend Mammy’s Kitchen right here), but if you’re using it straight away, or pouring it into a tart case, let it cool a bit, remembering to stir it occasionally to keep it from getting a skin on. When it’s about room temperature, pour it into the pastry case and pop into the fridge to cool.
A sealed jar will keep for a good few weeks in the fridge, but opened jars should be eaten within about a week.
So following on from fab pressies for foodies, this time it’s the turn of the cook in your life. Don’t immediately discount cookery books as the safe option, there are some fabulous cookbooks out there at this time of year.
The wonderful Eric Lanlard, Master Pâtissier and all-round creative genius has brought out a gorgeous book, perfect for any chocolate lover: Chocolat: Seductive Recipes for Bakes, Desserts, Truffles and Other Treats is stuffed full of every chocolate recipe you could ever want, plus it looks stunning. The perfect gift.
The Great British Vegetable Cookbook by Sybil Kapoor is full of really inventive vegetable recipes – both as accompaniments to main meals and as delicious meals in their own right. It’s wonderfully inspirational when you’re planning meals and would make a lovely gift for a veggie or meat eater.
Another of my favourite books of the year is A Good Egg: a year of recipes from an urban hen-keeper – by Genevieve Taylor. Perfect for anyone who yearns for the simple things – cooking simple, delicious dinners made with produce from your garden and eggs from hens pecking in the yard. It reminds me of classic Nigella books as it’s a lovely read as well as having some really gorgeous recipes. A bedside book, I’d call it. Inspirational.
I must admit I did once get very cross with Mr English for buying me a breadmaker for Christmas. It was when we’d first got together and I thought it was the most unromantic gift I’d ever received. Now, of course, I’d be delighted with a gorgeous appliance and I’ve got my eye on this very pretty pearly Breville Aurora toaster to go with my glossy cream kitchen units.
Next up is cheeeeese! No Christmas is complete without cheese and this one is really special (and extensively tested by me. You’re welcome). The Denhay Dorset Drum of cheddar is a real showstopper and packs a bit of punch, flavour wise. Denhay have now decided to focus all their attention on their bacon, so this is the last time you’ll be able to buy it. Snap one up online (from £25 + p&p) .
For something really special, how about a bottle of English Knightor Brut NV sparkling wine from Cornish winery Knightor. We gave it a try and it really is the perfect festive fizz – light, fruity (peachy?) and with lovely, almost creamy bubbles. You can buy it online, priced £27 from www.knightor.com. Gorgeous.
Experiences make really interesting gifts too. Why not treat your favourite chef/chefette to a course at Padstow Seafood School. They have a fab range of courses starting at £95 for a half day course. Gift cards are available and can be posted direct with a personalised message (they have no expiry date). Check out rickstein.com/seafood-school for details.
And for little stocking fillers? Check out Monin’s gorgeous gingerbread syrup (yummy in coffee, but equally good poured over pancakes or even as an ingredient in cakes), or why not wrap up a couple of Very Lazy’s little pots – the Smoked Chopped Garlic, Smoked Chopped Chillies (our favourite – amazing on pizzas) and Fire-Roasted Sliced Chillies are really interesting and useful – what more could you ask for?!
You know me, I pop up all over the interwebs, and at the moment you can find me chatting about Stir Up Sunday on the Yeo Valley website. Funnily enough, my recipe is the same as theirs in that you’ll need to start a little prep the day before, as the fruit benefits from an overnight soak, but if you don’t have time (or you’ve only just read this bit and were all ready to go), don’t worry – just give it as long as you have. Now, if you need information, hints, tips, ingredient notes and a step by step guide to making Christmas pudding, please just click here.
This is my updated recipe for 2013. This year, I’m going back more to how Christmas Pudding used to be, with loads of figs, currants and sultanas, and moving away from the more modern apricot and cherry additions.
I was chatting to our lovely friend (and wine expert) Tom Forrest from Vinopolis on Twitter about what booze to use, and he had some really lovely suggestions. I’m a huge fan of Pedro Ximenez and Tom recommends a Pedro from the English Whisky Company (£18) or an Aussie Brown Brothers Muscat Liqueur (about £12). You can also be more traditional and just use brandy, obviously.
Figgy Christmas Pudding
250g dried figs, finely chopped
50g prunes, finely chopped
100ml black tea
1 cinnamon stick, snapped in half
100ml Pedro Ximenez or other booze
3 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp black treacle
1 Bramley apple, grated
100g self raising flour (or rice flour for gluten free)
100g fresh white breadcrumbs (or again, ground almonds if you need to keep the recipe gluten free)
150g veggie suet
150g dark muscovado sugar
25g almonds, finely chopped
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
So on to the recipe then:
1. Weigh out the dried fruit, then have a good pick through and get rid of any stems, they’re yucky if you crunch on them. I let them fall through my fingers into the bowl a handful at a time. With the larger dried fruit, make sure they’re stoneless and snip them into small pieces.
2. Finely grate the lemon zest, then juice it as well. Add the zest and juice to the fruit then brew up the tea (one tea bag is fine for that amount of water) and pour it over the fruit, along with the rum. Add in the cinnamon stick and stir it all up. Cover with a plate and leave the whole shooting match to steep (make sure it’s not a metal bowl) overnight, stirring occasionally if you remember.
3. The next day, weigh out all the dry ingredients and combine them in a huge bowl. Don’t forget the spices! The muscovado sugar can be a bit lumpy so you might need to sift it to break up any lumps.
4. Take the steeped fruit and remove the cinnamon stick pieces. Add the eggs (give them a quick mix with a fork first), honey, treacle and grated apple (leave the peel on).
5. Stir well, then you can add all that into the dry ingredients. Give it a really good stir (get everyone to take a turn to stir and make a wish).
6. Now butter a big basin (3 pint/1.7 litre) or two smaller ones and bung in your mixture, pressing it down well and filling as near to the top as you can.
7. Cut out a circle of greaseproof paper, bigger than the top of the basin/s, then add a layer of foil. Tie the two layers tightly just under the basin rim with string, leaving lots of excess to make a handle. Now there is some weird way to loop the excess string underneath the basin to make a handle, but I’ve never managed it as I didn’t pay attention at Brownies. If you want to be extra sure no liquid gets in, add another layer of foil and tie again. Or you can use a basin with a lid, or tie it in a muslin, or use one of those special circular moulds.
And that’s it, you’ve made a Christmas pudding! Pause here a minute to give yourself a quick round of applause.
To steam it, you can use a steamer if you’re posh, but I haven’t got one so I just use a huge saucepan and balance the basin inside it on a circular metal pastry cutter so it isn’t sitting on the bottom of the pan. This will also stop it burning if you inadvertently let it boil dry. Add boiling water about halfway up the basin and put the lid on the saucepan. Steam for 5 hours, making sure you go back every so often to top up the boiling water.
I rewrap it with fresh greaseproof paper and foil, but you don’t have to. Keep it somewhere cool until Christmas day when it’ll need to steam for about another 2.5 to 3 hours (don’t worry if it gets a bit longer, it won’t ruin it). Or you could *gasp* just microwave it on Christmas day. Much easier, but not really traditional!
On Christmas day, just warm some booze gently, then at the last minute, pour it over the pud and set it alight. A splash of rum or a bit more of that Pedro and a tablespoon of icing sugar in some whipped cream (Yeo Valley Organic of course) would make a welcome addition.
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