Christmas is always a celebration at Ballymaloe. The key is to plan ahead so that you can enjoy the day with your family.
“We may all flirt with the idea of doing something different for Christmas and occasionally we do, but inevitably, despite the deliciousness of the maverick choice, there are always whimsical remarks tinged with nostalgia about the traditional roast turkey or goose with all the trimmings.
"So this year let’s have ‘the works’, but in the interest of self-preservation in this season of peace and goodwill, make a detailed plan. A week or two before the big day, snatch a few quiet moments, make yourself a cup of coffee or hot chocolate, put your feet up, and make a few detailed lists.
"I love to set up the crib first, to remind me of the raison d’être for the whole celebration and to get me into the true spirit of Christmas. Our grandchildren gather round to help, wide-eyed with wonder as they hear the story of Joseph and Mary and then place the little baby Jesus in his tiny crib. They love to help to bring in the holly and of course to decorate the Christmas tree.
"There’s nothing co-ordinated about our decorations, all the jingles and baubles collected over the past three decades, each with its own little story, hang in a haphazard way.
"Older children can help to make little star-shaped biscuits. We thread a narrow ribbon through the top and they can be dangled from the branches. Finally, the little candle-holders are clipped onto the branches and the tiny wax candles are lit. Memories of my childhood come flooding back.
"For me this moment has always been one of the most magical parts of Christmas. We play Christmas carols and the grandchildren sing ‘Jingle Bells’ and ‘Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ with gusto and delight — Christmas is truly here.
"Back to the kitchen, if you haven’t made the cake and pudding, don’t worry — there’s still time. When the children were small, I once made the cake on December 23rd, iced it on Christmas Eve, and it was one of the nicest cakes we ever had — crumbly and delicious. Plum puddings too can be made close to the time.
"This year we’ve made lots of tiny pud bowls, just enough for 2-4 not-very-hungry people. We’ve even more individual ones in espresso cups, which worked really well and looked adorable. They’ll only take 20-30 minutes to cook through on Christmas Day.
"One week or so ahead — make mincemeat and leave to mature. Make Cranberry Sauce. Order the goose, or turkey if you prefer. Weigh up mulled wine spices and wrap in twists of cling film or greaseproof paper.Herb and bread stuffing can be made ahead and frozen. Extra breadcrumbs can be stored for the bread sauce.
"Several days ahead — make pastry and mince pies and freeze. Made the trifle, cover and refrigerate. Make the yule log. Cover, but don’t roll up.
"The day before you plan to eat — lay the table and decorate — lots of holly, party poppers, and Christmas crackers. Prepare the celery and sprouts and potatoes. Toss the latter in extra virgin olive oil, put into a plastic bag, twist the end tightly and pop it in the fridge. The potatoes will keep perfectly and taste delicious.
"Just cover the vegetables with damp kitchen paper – no vegetables benefit either flavour wise or nutritionally from being soaked in water overnight. In fact, if the celery is cooked, it will reheat perfectly. On Christmas Day — decide on the time of the meal. Weigh the turkey and calculate the cooking time.
"Pop into the oven and relax. Roll up and decorate the Yule log. Decorate the trifle and put on the sideboard. Forty-five minutes to an hour before the end of cooking time, put the potatoes on to roast. Put on the bread sauce (this can also be made ahead if you prefer). Chill wine or bubbly.
"Just before serving, make the gravy, cook or reheat the vegetables. Pop the bird on your poshest serving dish and keep warm. Make your way to the table, tuck in, and enjoy — and all the rest of you don’t forget a hug for the cook and to do all the washing up.
"Merry Christmas to all our readers, and may all your dreams come true.”
Saturday 18th December, 2004
Makes 20-24 mince pies
Core and bake the whole apples in a moderate oven 180˚C/gas mark 4 for about 45 minutes. When they are soft, remove the skin and mash the flesh into pulp. Grate the rind from the lemons on the finest part of a stainless steel grater and squeeze out the juice.
Add the other ingredients one by one, and as they are added, mix everything thoroughly together. Put into jars, cover with jam covers and leave to mature for a week before using. Next make the shortcrust pastry.
Sieve the flour into a bowl, cut the butter into roughly half-inch cubes, toss into the four and rub in with the finger tips. Add the icing sugar.
Mix with a fork as you gradually add in the beaten egg (do this bit by bit because you may not need all the egg), then use your hand to bring the pastry together into a ball: it should notbe wet or sticky. Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for an hour.
Roll out the pastry until quite thin – about 2.5cm, stamp out into rounds 7.5cm in diameter and line shallow bun tins, put a good teaspoonful of mincemeat into each tin, damp the edges with water and put another round on top. Egg wash and decorate with pastry leaves in the shape of holly berries.
Bake the mince pies in a heated moderate oven 180C/Gas mark 4, for 20 minutes approx. Allow them to cool slightly, then dredge with icing or castor sugar.
Serve with a blob of whiskey-flavoured cream.
Irish Whiskey Cream
Fold the sugar and whiskey into the cream.
This is my favourite roast stuffed turkey recipe. You may think the stuffing seems dull because it doesn’t include exotic-sounding ingredients like chestnuts and spiced sausage meat, but in fact it is moist and full of the flavour of fresh herbs and the turkey juices. Cook a chicken in exactly the same way but use one-quarter of the stuffing quantity given.
Remove the wishbone from the neck end of the turkey, for ease of carving later. Make a turkey stock by covering with cold water the neck, gizzard, heart, wishbone, wingtips, vegetables and bouquet garni. (Keep the liver for smooth turkey liver pate). Bring to the boil and simmer while the turkey is being prepared and cooked for about three hours.
To make the fresh herb stuffing: Sweat the onions gently in the butter until soft, for about 10 minutes. Then stir in the crumbs, herbs and a little salt and pepper to taste. Allow it to get quite cold. If necessary, wash and dry the cavity of the bird, then season and half-fill with cold stuffing. Put the remainder of the stuffing into the crop at the neck end.
Weigh the turkey and calculate the cooking time. Allow about 15 minutes per half kilo and 15 minutes over. Melt 2 dessertspoons of butter and soak a large piece of good quality muslin in the melted butter; cover the turkey completely with the muslin and roast in a heated moderate oven, 180˚C/gas mark 4, for about three-and-a-half hours.
There is no need to baste it because of the butter-soaked muslin. The turkey browns beautifully, but if you like it even browner, remove the muslin 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time. Alternatively, smear the breast, legs and crop well with soft butter, and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
If the turkey is not covered with butter-soaked muslin then it is a good idea to cover the whole dish with tinfoil. However, your turkey will then be semi-steamed, not roasted in the traditional sense of the word.
The turkey is cooked when the juices run clear. To test, prick the thickest part at the base of the thigh and examine the juices: they should be clear. Remove the turkey to a carving dish, keep it warm and allow it to rest while you make the gravy. Cover loosely with greaseproof paper and roast in a heated moderate oven 180C/gas mark 4 for up to one-and-a-half hours.
The turkey is done when the juices run clear. To test, prick the thickest part at the base of the thigh and examine the juices, they should be clear. Remove the turkey to a carving dish, keep it warm and allow it to rest while you make the gravy.
To make the gravy: Spoon off the surplus fat from the roasting pan. Deglaze the pan juices with fat-free stock from the giblets and bones. Using a whisk, stir and scrape well to dissolve the caramelised meat juices from the roasting pan. Boil it up well, season and thicken with a little roux if you like. Taste and correct the seasoning. Serve in a hot gravy boat.
If possible, present the turkey on your largest serving dish, garnished with greenery and herbs. Serve with cranberry sauce and bread sauce.
I love bread sauce but if I hadn’t been reared on it I might never have tried it, the recipe sounds so dull!
Bring to the boil in a small, deep saucepan all the ingredients except the cream. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and simmer gently on a very low heat or cook in a low oven 160˚C/gas mark 3, for 30 minutes. Remove the onion and add the cream just before serving.
Correct the seasoning and add a little more milk if the sauce is too thick. Serve hot. Quatre epices is a French spice product made of equal amounts of ground white pepper, cloves, nutmeg and ginger.
Cranberry sauce is also delicious served with roast turkey, game, and some rough pâtés and terrines.
Put the fresh cranberries in a heavy-based stainless steel or cast-iron saucepan with the water — don’t add the sugar yet as it tends to toughen the skins.
Bring them to the boil, cover and simmer until the cranberries pop and soften — about seven minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar until dissolved. Serve warm or cold.
■ Note: Cranberry sauce will keep in your fridge for a week to 10 days.
Chocolate Yule Log is usually made with a chocolate sponge Swiss roll but I prefer this sinfully rich version. There’s no need for any icing, it’s rich enough as it is!
Preheat the oven to 180ºC/gas mark 4. Line a Swiss roll tin with oiled tinfoil or Bakewell paper. Separate the eggs. Put the yolks into a bowl, gradually add the caster sugar and whisk until the mixture is thick and pale lemon coloured.
Melt the chocolate with the water in a saucepan over a very gentle heat, then draw aside while you whisk the egg whites to a firm snow. Add the melted chocolate to the egg yolk mixture.
Stir a little of the egg white into the mixture, cut and fold the remainder of the egg whites into the mixture and turn it into the prepared tin. Cook in a preheated oven, bake for 15-18 minutes or until firm to the touch around the edge but still slightly soft in the centre. Wring out a tea-towel in cold water.
Take out the roulade, cool it slightly, then cover with the cloth. (This is to prevent any sugary crust forming.) Leave it in a cool place. Provided the cloth is kept damp, it will keep for two days like this.
When you are ready to assemble, whip the cream and flavour with the rum. Put a sheet of greaseproof paper onto a table and dust it well with sieved icing sugar. Remove the damp cloth from the roulade and turn the tin upside down onto the prepared paper.
Remove the tin and peel the tinfoil off the roulade carefully. Spread with the rum-flavoured cream and roll it up like a Swiss roll. Cut about one-third off the roll at an angle. Lift the roll onto a serving plate, arrange the smaller piece so it looks like a branch and dust well with icing sugar.
Decorate with Christmas cake decorations, e.g. holly leaves, Santas, robins etc., sprinkle again with a little extra icing sugar and serve.
This recipe makes two large or three medium puddings. The large size will serve 10-12 people, the medium 6-8 but I also like to make teeny weeny ones.
Mix all the ingredients together very thoroughly and leave overnight. Don’t forget, everyone in the family must stir and make a wish! Next day stir again for good measure.
Fill into pudding bowls; cover with a double thickness of greaseproof paper which has been pleated in the centre, and tie it tightly under the rim with cotton twine, making a twine handle also for ease of lifting.
Steam in a covered saucepan of boiling water for six hours. The water should come half way up the side of the bowl. Check every hour or so and top up with boiling water if necessary. After 5 hours, 3 hours, 2 hours depending on the size ... remove the pudding.
Allow to get cold and re-cover with fresh greaseproof paper. Store in a cool dry place until required. On Christmas day or whenever you wish to serve the plum pudding, steam for a further 2 hours.
Turn the plum pudding out of the bowl onto a very hot serving plate, pour over some whiskey or brandy and ignite. Serve immediately on very hot plates with brandy butter.
You might like to decorate the plum pudding with a sprig of holly; but take care not to set the holly on fire — as well as the pudding!
Makes about 40 slices
This makes a moist cake which keeps very well. It can either be made months ahead or, if you are frenetically busy then it will still be delish even if made just a few days before Christmas – believe me I know!
Line the base and sides of a 23cm (9 inch) round, or 20cm (8 inch) square tin with a double thickness of silicone paper. Then tie a double layer of brown paper around the outside of the tin. Have a sheet of brown or silicone paper to lay on top of the tin during cooking.
Wash the cherries and dry them gently. Cut in two or four as desired. Blanch the almonds in boiling water for 1–2 minutes, then rub off the skins and chop them finely. Mix the dried fruit, nuts, ground almonds and grated orange and lemon zest. Add about half of the whiskey and leave for 1 hour to macerate.
Preheat the oven to 160˚C/gas mark 3. Cream the butter until very soft. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Whisk the eggs and add in bit by bit, beating well between each addition so that the mixture doesn’t curdle. Mix the mixed spice with the flour and stir gently into the butter mixture.
Add the grated cooking apple to the plumped up fruit and stir into the butter mixture gently but thoroughly (don’t beat the mixture again or you will toughen the cake). Put the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Make a slight hollow in the centre, dip your hand in water and pat it over the surface of the cake – this will ensure that the top is smooth when cooked.
Now lay a double sheet of brown paper on top of the cake to protect the surface from the direct heat. Bake for 1 hour. Then reduce the heat to 150˚C/gas mark 2 and bake for a further 2½ hours, until cooked; test in the centre with a skewer – it should come out completely clean.
Pour the remainder of the whiskey over the cake and leave it to cool in the tin. Next day, remove the cake from the tin. Do not remove the lining paper but wrap the cake in some extra greaseproof paper and tin foil until required.
Store in a cool, dry place; the longer the cake is stored the more mature it will be.