Apricot and fig pork stuffing for turkey, duck or game. I like pairing meat with fruit, dried fruit especially, and this stuffing will complement poultry extremely well. If you set out on a challenge of de-boned bird roast this Christmas, it’s a wonderful filling to spread inside the meat, roll and tie it up, roast and serve for the ‘wow’ factor.
Beef fillet roulade with porcini mushroom stuffing. The execution could not be easier: if you get a nice middle cut of fillet - but frankly any part will go - all you do is open it up like a book with a sharp knife, spread with the stuffing and roll it up again.
Christmas turkey - wonderfully moist, brined for 36 hours, worth every minute of the effort. Some other points worth bearing in mind: don’t cover it. It will steam instead of roasting. But by all means pour some liquid into the tray so it cooks in slightly moist environment.
Crispy roasted brussels sprouts and blanched sprout tops with almonds. They need to be salted and peppered about twice as much as an amount you think sensible.
Brussels sprouts cooked with fennel and caraway seeds and coated in crushed walnuts, parmesan and breadcrumbs. For a vegetarian option of course leave out the bacon. The fennel and caraway seeds add flavour.
Yule log, or buche de Noel made with chocolate sponge and chocolate whipped cream filling. This is DEFINITELY the best dessert on Christmas day. It rides onto the table when everyone is in deep gluttonous stupor after third helpings of turkey and just one more last spoonful of stuffing, and suddenly they perk up mumbling ‘this is a bit of all right’ and ‘I might have room for the thinnest slice more’.
Tasty Christmas stuffing made with minced pork, chestnuts and porcini mushrooms. ‘Stuffing’ – such a misnomer. You should NOT stuff the turkey. It will cook better and quicker all alone, with perhaps just an onion or an apple in the cavity.
Chocolate covered lebkuchen filled with jam. Lebkuchen or gingerbread cookies are rather indulgent spiced honey cookies and I’ve taken the indulgence to the next level here – by filling them with jam and dipping them in chocolate.
A different take on a Christmas pudding, with carrots and dates, baked instead of steamed. A cross between a carrot and date cake, a lighter sticky toffee pudding, baked not steamed, sauce still served – this is the one to try.
Christmas Stollen with homemade marzipan. Stollen tastes absolutely divine when still warm from the oven but it keeps very well. The German Christmas bread symbolised baby Jesus swaddled in clothing
Cranberry gingerbread cake, sweet and tart, spiced and festive. Totally perfect for those freaks like me who detest Christmas pudding and fruit cake.
Cranberry ketchup is a sweet, sour and salty condiment with a festive tang, excellent with roast meats instead of the usual cranberry sauce. Tomato ketchup is what springs to mind these days but it wasn’t always so - fish as above, mushroom in 18th century and even walnuts here and there.
Simple and easy cranberry sauce to serve with your turkey. It can be made well ahead of time as it stores well in the fridge. If you prefer it a little tarter, reduce the amount of sugar.
Dabo - Ethiopian honey and milk bread. Delicious fresh from the oven, but it makes great toast as well. You can shape it into a plain round loaf or plait it like challah.
Fruity, nut free mince pies made from scratch: the best shortcrust pastry and delicious fruit filling. I never used to like mince pies until I made them at home. The fact is that all shop-bought pies, even the posh, fancy, Hestonised and overpriced numbers taste mainly of too much orange peel and too much booze. As much as I’m the last person to complain about too much booze, I like to keep it separate from cakes. And orange peel is usually nasty, unless you make it yourself (I don’t) or spend quite a bit more money than even Waitrose Cook’s Ingredients charge.
Christmas fruit cake - lighter in colour and in taste but still rich and full of raisins, berries, apricots, figs and almonds. It keeps very well but needn’t be made weeks ahead of Christmas – tastes best when it had been standing for a couple of days.
Galette des rois, an elegant treat for the night of Epiphany, or any other time during the twelve days of Christmas. There are some lovely traditions associated with the galette: a ‘fève’ is hidden inside the cake - a tiny china figurine or an almond - and the lucky person to find it (and not choke on it) is crowned a king or queen for the carnival.
Ginger cake with candied ginger pieces, jam filling and maple syrup icing. I always thought ‘gingerbread’ referred only to cookies until I saw the cranberry gingerbread cake in NYTimes Cooking.
Joululimppu - Finnish Christmas bread with buttermilk, black treacle and caraway and fennel seeds. What a lovely bread this is! Unlike any other loaf. Goes beautifully with a little smoked salmon on Christmas morning.
Julekake, Norwegian Christmas bread with raisins, citrus peel and cardamom flavour. Now this is what I call Christmas Day breakfast - and even better on Boxing Day, toasted and thickly buttered. Better than a brioche - firmer and more substantial, and not so rich.
Festive Krantz cake with chocolate and walnut filling - quite unusual. No idea what its name means and no, it’s not the same as Kranz – creamy ‘crown’ cake. I found my recipe in ‘Baking with Passion’ by Dan Lepard and Richard Whittington.
Lebkuchen - soft, honeyed cookies, similar to gingerbreads. Lebkuchen are of German provenance, invented by Franciscan monks in the 13th century.
Lemon posset, the easiest and the loveliest dessert, served with crunchy biscuits. Posset in medieval times was a spiced, rich milky-wine concoction, served probably more often as a remedy than a dessert. They did mix their drinks in the olden days didn’t they?
My recipe for mince pies has the best shortcrust pastry and the nicest mincemeat filling - easy to make too. They go back to the times of crusades and the Middle Eastern approach to sweet and savoury, mixing meat with spices, fruit and nuts.
Mini Pavlovas - individual meringues with whipped cream and fruit toppings: passion fruit, pomegranate and raspberry. Simple – and gorgeous. Any time of year. And what’s more important – small meringues are much easier to bake than a whole big Pavlova.
Festive Stollen with sweet, spiced poppy seed filling. Poppy seeds make such a fantastic festive filling for breads, cakes and little bites that it’s a shame they are not more popular in the bits of Europe west and south of Dresden.
Orange and spice muffins with candied citrus peel. These smell lovely while they’re baking – orange-and-spice, Christmas-just-around-the-corner aroma.
Tartlets with ricotta and almond filling, topped with candied orange slices. I can’t honestly say which filling is nicer – the bonus about the ricotta one I guess that you can stick the leftovers into a buttered and floured ramekin and bake for a mini cheesecake.
Pandoro, Italian festive 'golden bread', the sweet buttery panettone's rival. Come on, Italians - just have both. I’m having both this year, although my pandoro is baked in a panettone tin - and my recipe is a somewhat hacked version of an Italian one.
Panettone - classic Italian Christmas sweet bread. Yes – it’s doable. A word of warning though: it’s a fickle, capricious beast in the truly Italian style, la donna è mobile and so is panettone.
Turnips roasted with thyme, rosemary and parmesan. They get a new line of life with this recipe, zinged with a dash of parmesan and thoroughly cooked through. Now I’m a hater of overcooked veg, but those babies, they need to be tender.
Parsnip and orange cake with cinnamon and raisins. Very similar to carrot cake though not quite as moist, it’s good enough to bake at Christmas instead of the fruit cake.
Dos and don'ts of roasting the best potatoes you have ever eaten! Do: pre-boil them, use lots of fat, start them off on the hob...
Meringue roulade with raspberries and whipped mascarpone cream filling, decorated with rose petals and pistachios. Just when you thought meringue-related desserts couldn’t get any better – this thing turns up.
Festive red cabbage stir fried with apples, raisins and spices, super quick to cook. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve cooked red cabbage slow and low before, with the obligatory red wine and spices, but since the generous crop this year I’ve had to look for quicker ways.
Carrots and parsnips roasted with harissa, herbs and honey. Roasted root vegetables – excellent with a roast, Christmas Day can’t be without them. I find the simpler the better they are.
Whole roast duck with a spice rub and honey and dark soy glaze. This one is cooked through but not overdone, moist and flavoursome thanks to the honey and the spices, and very tender.
Roast grouse served with game chips. Grouse is a grown-up’s game. For beginners, quail or guinea fowl will be a tame enough start. Intermediate gamers will enjoy partridge and pheasant lest it’s inexpertly dried out in the oven.
Roast partridge is the taste of autumn because we don’t get to eat game all year round. That’s the beauty of truly seasonal food – you appreciate it when in season as no partridges can be flown in from Peru in the middle of June. The trick is to cook it just right.
Roast pheasant with best Brussel sprouts and garlic spinach mushrooms. Game birds roasted inevitably evoke the spirit of Christmas, especially when paired with disputably fragrant aroma of cooking Brussels sprouts.
What a glorious thing roast beef is. Perfect invention for a Sunday, to stick a quarter of a cow into the oven and forget about it for the time it takes to get to church and back – or play a stint of World of Warcraft upstairs.
Schiacciata di uva - Tuscan grape focaccia. The Italian and the French have a lovely way with flat dough – they salt it, stuff it with olives, ham, cheese, soft fruit, preserves, sugar - whatever you like. This one is harvest festive bread.
Steamed salmon in a parcel is truly delicious – I had it warm, almost straight from the steamer (bar shooting a few pictures) but it tasted even better the next day, provided you bring it up to room temperature.
Traditional panettone, sweet Italian Christmas bread, made with natural starter. You have to be patient. You have to have patience, lots of it. Patience, grasshopper.
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