Less than two weeks now, to use a grown-up expression instead of the idiotic ‘how many sleeps’ (what about insomniacs? do afternoon naps count?). Even if not so many things can be made ahead yet – though some can, see last week’s What To Cook – it’s definitely time to do some planning.
I know obsessive planning can be viewed as – well – obsessive, but a sensible amount of spreadsheets and lists make life incomparably easier. Spontaneity is all very well except when you run out of cocoa powder and about to make the yule log.
A list for gifts is invaluable, especially that we’ll now think twice before going on a shopping centre all-day rampage. Lists are useful even if ordering absolutely everything from Mr Bezos (not recommended in my view). I usually make a list of ideas which later turn into links to the retailer’s sites which I subsequently highlight in green when the parcel arrives. Neat and colourful!
The very same thing can be done if you purchase most of your ingredients, sweets, condiments, cheeses and crackers (craps! must add crackers to my list NOW!). Once made, those lists as well as spreadsheets I’m about to mention can be amended and updated year on year. Neat and useful!
Christmas baking requires a spreadsheet if you bake half as much as me every year. It certainly is worth making in order to calculate how many eggs, how much butter, flour, raisins and almonds you’re going to need for all the Stollen, gingerbreads and mince pies. Mine usually looks something like this:
Messy and clear as mud! But it makes perfect sense to me so if you try making one of your own, I'm sure you'll find it really helpful.
Finally, some newish and less common bakes and desserts recipes to perhaps try out this year? Also they have all rather long shelf (cupboard) life so you might get baking in the next couple of days.
Black cake is a Caribbean take on English Christmas cake, far superior if I may judge it. There is an astonishing amount of dried fruit in it, dark rum (of course!) and it has delightful burnt sugar flavour.
More ideas from Italy: it turns out they don’t only eat panettone at Christmas but also make a semblance of English mince pies, in size extra large and with Italian flavour - spongata di natale.
Panpepato is a variety of panforte from Siena, a concoction which can hardly be described as cake as it’s basically delicious fruit and nut pressed into a cake. It’s baked, but there is hardly any flour in the mix.
Did you know that they served 13 desserts on Christmas Eve in Provence? Lots are fresh and dried fruit but there’s also this special bread called ‘pompe a l’huile’, olive oil pump. Delicious and unusual as it’s enriched with – you guessed – olive oil instead of butter.
For mini bites, sweet snacks and cakey things I suggest ricciarelli, Italian delicate almond cookies. Or perhaps Zimtsterne, cinnamon stars? And if you want to stick to English specialties make a batch of ginger snaps.
Next week – final notice on the choice of roasts and sides for Christmas Day. Whatever you go for, the gravy is the most important element anyway so I’ll give you a failproof instruction for best gravy, whatever the roast.
Keep making lists until then!