I really enjoy writing this round-up post – traditionally my last one before Christmas. I probably say more or less the same thing every year (don’t panic! It’s just a big roast dinner), but as usual, remember that it’s your Christmas too. Grab a few willing helpers to make some Christmas cookies, or whip up some of my perfect frozen whipped cream hot chocolate and have a little prep-party on Christmas Eve (it’s amazing how much you can get done the night before). Need a little inspiration? Read on for my top tips and recipes for Christmas dinner and beyond: fresh ideas, old favourites and more!
I’m obsessed with everything Scandinavian (some of you may know that I’ve just written the recipes and contributed some of the food photography for a book called Nordic Style for Viking Cruises along with Liz Jarvis and Sara Malm – super proud!). I especially love how the Scandinavians do Christmas, and, knowing that Homesense often have extra special bits and pieces from around the globe, I headed to my nearest store to find some inspiration for a Scandi Christmas, and a few bits for some special Scandi Christmas cookies.
We love a rich, fruity, spiced Christmas cake, but as I’ve said before, I’m just not organised enough to bake it weeks in advance then feed it every week. Happily, it’s very easy to make a lovely, moist cake this close to Christmas – if you get the chance to feed it a couple of times before you ice it, happy days. If not, it will still taste absolutely fine. I think that the trick is to use lovely plump, soft fruit, and get a bit of moisture into the dried fruit before you add it to the cake mix. This recipe gives the fruit a warm Christmassy bath of booze, honey and clementine juice, which makes all the difference to the finished cake. I used my fab new Kenwood Chef Elite (I’m completely obsessed) to make a really lovely light cake mixture to hold all that delicious fruit. This year, I decided to use my beloved Bundt tin as well – bit of a worry as I had no idea how long to cook it for – but with trial and error (and lots of poking and checking), we got there in the end. If you’ve got a tin, a Christmas Bundt cake looks striking, but I’ve left instructions for how to bake the cake using just a normal springform tin too.
Recently, an enormous box arrived at English Towers with a lovely note from the folks at Kenwood: ‘we know you love cooking, so would you like this beautiful Kenwood Chef Elite?’ Seriously generous, right? But I didn’t rush to open it, because, well, I’ve got a mixer already that I’ve had for ages and love, and on the box it looks all complicated and new-fangled, not homely and quirky like mine. Not wanting to seem ungrateful, though, and because everyone kept complaining that there was a huge box on the kitchen floor, I opened it up and popped it onto the kitchen counter. Well. Cue choirs of angels singing and all that jazz, because this thing is beautiful. Seriously, I sent a pic to Mr E and he replied ‘erm, wow. It really goes in our kitchen’. To give it a thorough test, though, and make sure it has brains as well as beauty, I attempted some Christmas crumble muffins with my sleek and shiny new baby. Here’s how I got on:
Stir-up Sunday is coming, people! I absolutely love this weekend as, for me, it properly signifies the start of Christmas. The kitchen is filled with the warming scents of orange and spice, and there’s lots of stirring and steaming: all my favourite things! If you fancy making your own Christmas puddings this year, I’ve added the ingredients list nice and early so you can make sure you have everything ready. Remember that, if you follow this recipe, you’ll actually need to start on the Saturday as I recommend steeping the fruit overnight – also, do remember that steaming the pudding takes about five hours, so don’t start everything too late or you’ll be steaming when you should be sleeping! So, for the Christmas pudding recipe 2017, I’ve kept it simple: no figs, no apricots, just a lot of cranberries and plenty of spice. Here’s how to do it:
So here it is, my very last post before Christmas! I’ve been writing this blog for 10 years now (I know!) and every year, I say the same thing: if you’re cooking the Christmas lunch – and getting stressed about it – remember it’s your Christmas too. I’ve got loads of tips here to make the day as stress free and laid back as possible for you, so you can enjoy your Christmas day with your family and friends. So find a quiet corner, Treat yourself to my perfect frozen whipped cream hot chocolate, grab a notebook, have a read through and take few minutes to make a plan. And remember, it’s basically just a big roast dinner, and this guide will help you do most of the work on Christmas Eve so you can spend as much time as possible with the family, and as little as possible in the kitchen on the big day!
How flipping lovely is Christmas baking? I’m never happier than when I’m in my kitchen, surrounded by twinkly lights, my new kitchen Christmas tree, and the delicious scent of Christmassy cinnamon wafting from the oven. I make so many mince pies over Christmas (Mr E is a big fan) that I tend to buy an absolute ton of mincemeat. However, it’s really lovely – and easy – to make your own. Homemade mincemeat makes great presents for friends and family and you’ll be surprised how delicious it tastes compared to the stuff from a jar (which I always zhuzh up with a load of booze and extra cranberries anyway).
I have a complicated relationship with biscotti. On the one hand, I love baking them (and eating them) but on the other hand, listening to people say ‘oh wow these biscotti are SO hard!’ makes me want to throw the aforementioned hard biscuits at their heads. Yes, biscotti are hard. That’s kind of the point. They’re twice baked and made to be dunked – traditionally in vin santo, but they’re also delicious dunked in coffee (or if you’re a coffee hater like me, hot chocolate, where they’re perfect for scooping out your melted marshmallows). I’ve made spiced chocolate and pistachio biscotti by adding a little Christmassy spice and using chocolate chunks and pistachio nuts, but feel free to keep it traditional with almonds, or add some dried fruit. Read more
Look, it’s the 28th November, okay? It’s basically the beginning of Christmas week’ isn’t it? We don’t generally do our decorations until the first weekend in December, but Christmas baking? I’m all over it. This weekend, it was time to bring out my favourite Christmas tree mould and create some new Christmassy treats in the shape of these little chocolate Christmas tree cakes. This is a fab, fun thing to do with the kids – basically smother the little sponge trees in melted chocolate and then go crazy with the decorations. Here’s how I did it:
I’m sure I’ve written about this before, but when Mr E was little, his favourite treat was his mum’s ‘pastry jammy cakey things’ – basically a jam tart with a cake topping. Over the years I’ve made these in various different forms, but he especially loves the Christmassy mince pie version. We’re Christmas lovers here at Number One, and Christmas starts basically as soon as Mr E’s birthday is over in mid-November (we just about manage to reach December 1st before the tree goes up). This year, I’ve added festive clementine and cinnamon to the cake mix, but sadly still not thought of a decent name for them, so ‘clementine and cinnamon cakey mince pies’ will have to do.
For me, this year has been all about Walt Disney World, and in particular, Disney’s Frozen. So when it came to decorating my Christmas cake, I knew it was going to have to have a Frozen theme. I’d seen the sugar glass (or ice) a few times on Pinterest but they were always American recipes and involved corn syrup and, frankly, unless you’re Buddy the Elf, it’s unlikely you’re going to come across this on your travels. I was worried that substituting golden syrup would taint the colour but it didn’t seem to at all (obviously if you’re aiming for clear ‘glass’ then this recipe won’t work for you’). I used colouring paste, but liquid will work too. These gorgeous little cake toppers are from Cake Decorating Store, as are the cutters. I cut out the ‘frozen fractals’ from leftover icing (sticking them on with a dab of boiling water) but decorate however you want, or just leave it plain and sprinkle with a bit of glitter (I love glitter).
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.
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.
I ADORE making Christmas pudding: it’s my first real Christmas job (because I’m lazy with the Christmas cakes) and the house just smells divine. Actually, because I soak the fruit overnight, I tend to start on Stir-up Saturday (what? it’s a thing, honestly), but you could start in the morning, soak the fruit all day and make the pudding in the evening too…
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