Forever Christmas

Cooking recipes for a Christmas-themed meal: Turkey Roll, Cranberry Sauce and Yorkshire Pudding, followed by Christmas Cake, Mince Pies and Ginger Biscuits.

Turkey Roll

Turkey has been the traditional core of the British Christmas dinner since at least Dickens. Turkey breast takes less time to cook than a whole bird, occupies less space in the oven, and is altogether easier to serve. There are three main components of a Turkey Roll:

  • Meat: Between 500g to 2kg of turkey breast, serving between 3 and 12 people respectively. Thick breasts are ideal – make a single deep cut along the narrowest side, lengthwise from top to bottom, then open the breast out like a book. Thinner, or pre-sliced breasts can also be used – such a book with no spine will simply require more care when wrapping. Optionally, to improve the turkey’s favour, brine the meat:
    1. In a saucepan, mix together enough water and white wine (or similar vinegar) to be able to cover the meat.
    2. Add generous amounts of salt and sugar (about 1g of each per 20ml of liquid), plus a little (crushed or chopped) garlic and a mix of green herbs (such as bay leaf, parsley, thyme and sage).
    3. Heat until the mixture boils and the sugar dissolves. Place the turkey meat in a large bowl or tin, and pour over the brine.
    4. Refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours, then discard the brine and the drain the meat, patting it dry with paper towels.
  • Stuffing: Between 150g and 600g of good quality (soft) sausagemeat. If using sausages, push the meat out of its skin and discard the skin. Chop dried apricots (50g-200g). Apricots can be substituted with other dried fruit or nuts. Sautee finely chopped onion (½-2) and garlic with a little olive oil in a pan, until the onion is translucent, then allow to cool. In a bowl, mix the sausagemeat, chopped apricots, cooked onion/garlic, breadcrumbs (25g-100g) and green herbs (especially sage). Use hands to ensure the sausagemeat melds with the other ingredients. If the mixture does not stick together add lard (pig fat) or an egg to the mix. Lay the stuffing along the centreline of each turkey breast. Roll the turkey around the stuffing, so that it completely contains the stuffing. The aim is approximately 2cm diameter log of stuffing surrounded by about 1cm width of turkey breast.
  • Wrapping: Between 12 and 32 rashers of streaky (fatty) bacon. Cover (top and bottom) the whole roll with rashers of bacon. Overlap bacon rashers slightly. Ideally use the bacon to improve the structural integrity of the roll, by laying bacon horizontally to bind the vertical cut in the turkey. For even greater integrity use additional bacon to create a bacon lattice – weaving horizontal and vertical bacon rashers together. The bacon wrapping can be beautifully intricate if the cooked dish is to be presented direct from the oven, or rough and functional if it is to be carved in private. Bind each roll using multiple loops of pure cotton string, or a cooking net. Place the roll(s) in a large oven tin.

All this can be prepared a day or two before cooking, and kept (temporarily sealed in cling/plastic film) in the fridge. When ready to cook, drip olive oil over the roll, and cover the whole oven tin in aluminium foil. The combination of bacon and foil ensures the meat cooks in rich fatty juices, and will not dry out. Preheat an oven to 180°c, and cook for at least 1 hour. At higher quantities (or especially thick meat), cook for about 90 minutes. For the final 20 minutes of cooking, remove the foil cover and increase the temperature to 200°c, to crisp the bacon. Remove from the oven, drain the residual juices from the pan (which can optionally be used to make meat stock, or discarded), replace the foil cover, and allow the Turkey Roll to stand for 15-20 minutes. During this period the oven can be used to cook Yorkshire Puddings. Finally remove and discard the string, cut the Turkey Roll into thick slices, and serve.

Cranberry Sauce

A post-war North American export, Cranberry Sauce is a relatively recent addition to Christmas tradition. European recipes for Cranberry Sauce generally uses less sugar than North American recipes, instead replacing water with alcohol for a richer, less sweet flavour. The basic concept is simple and can be tweaked to taste:

  1. In a saucepan, add cranberries (fresh or frozen) and sugar in a ratio of 2:1 by weight. To accompany the Turkey Roll above, approximately 100g-300g of cranberry and 50g-150g of sugar.
  2. For every 3g of cranberry, add about 1ml of liquid (30ml-100ml). The liquid can be orange juice, white wine, cider vinegar, port, or ideally some combination.
  3. Optionally, add spice (cinnamon, ginger, allspice), the zest of an orange, and a squeeze of lemon juice.
  4. Bring to the boil and reduce the heat. Gradually stir for 10-15 minutes, until the berries pop.
  5. Either serve directly, or store in a jar in the fridge and reheat prior to serving.

Yorkshire Pudding

Yorkshire Puddings traditionally accompany roasted meat in Britain at all times of year, not just Christmas. Yorkshire Puddings are ideal for cooking during the final stage of roasting, when meat is standing outside the oven, or vegetables need crisping at high heat. Oven control is important when cooking Yorkshire Puddings:

  1. The ingredients should be in the ratio of 1 egg to 35g plain flour to 50ml milk. To accompany the Turkey Roll above, 1-4 eggs (plus 35g-140g flour and 50-200ml milk) for smaller puddings, double for larger puddings.
  2. Add the flour to a mixing container or bowl, beat in the eggs one at a time until they are combined with the flour, then slowly mix in the milk to create a lump-free batter.
  3. Add a little sunflower oil to each of the holes in a pudding or muffin tin, and place the tin in a preheated oven at 210°c for a minute or two: Hot oil is important for a good Yorkshire Pudding.
  4. Pour a little batter into each hole, and return the tin to the oven. Keep the oven door closed for about 20 minutes, allowing the pudding to rise and crisp: Not disturbing the oven during cooking is equally important for a good Yorkshire Pudding.
  5. Scoop out the cooked puddings with a spoon, drain the excess oil, and serve.

A full traditional Christmas dinner would normally be accompanied by roasted vegetables and eaten at lunchtime. To lighten the meal for the evening, we serve this course (Turkey Roll with Cranberry Sauce and Yorkshire Pudding) with salads.

Christmas Cake

Christmas Cake is an extremely heavy fruit cake, traditionally served in the evening on Christmas day, and in the days thereafter. Preparation should start at least a day before serving, and ideally a few weeks before, to give the cake time to mature. This recipe produces approximately 20 small or 10 large servings.

  1. Add approximately 1kg of dried fruit to a large mixing bowl. A wide variety of dried fruits is ideal, including raisins, currents, sultanas, glacé cherries, candied fruit, peel, cranberries, prunes (stoned and chopped), figs (chopped), apricots (chopped), and/or mango (all dried). Pour over about 100ml of liquid: Ideally distilled alcohol – rum, port, and/or whisky. An alternative to alcohol is orange juice (and zest), augmented with lemon juice, rosewater, orange blossom water, and/or honey – but note that such a cake cannot be kept as long as one matured in alcohol. Leave to soak overnight.
  2. Next day, beat 250g brown sugar into 250g butter (softened or cut into small chunks) in a very large mixing bowl. Then beat in 4 eggs, one at a time. Mix in 250g plain flour, some spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice), and optionally a handful of crushed nuts or almonds. Finally tip in the soaked fruit with any remaining liquid, and mix thoroughly.
  3. Grease a springform cake tin (of at least 20cm diameter) with butter and dust with flour. Spoon in the cake mixture. Create a slight depression in the centre of the cake, which will rise to give a horizontal surface for easier icing. Preheat an oven to 150°c, and bake the cake for 2 hours.
  4. As the cake cools (which will take several hours), poke a few fine holes in the top, and gradually pour over another 100ml of liquid (distilled alcohol or orange juice). Store in a dark place in an airtight container. If storing the cake for more than a week, feed it every week with additional liquid.
  5. Before serving the cake, ice it: Christmas cakes are traditionally sealed with a thin layer of marzipan, but strawberry jam may be used if the surface can remain uneven. Ice with buttercream (butterscotch) or rolled fondant. Icing the sides of the cake is optional. Additional decoration can be added to give the cake greater visual personality, normally with a snowy, festive or religious theme.
Snowman Grove
Snowman Grove: Fondant icing was applied on the rough cake-top surface to create the impression of snow. The small conifer trees and holly bushes were created by moulding a small fondant pyramid, dressing it with pre-made green icing from a tube, then randomly pulling the icing outward with the handle of a spoon to create the appearance of small branches. Icing sugar was sprinkled over to mimic a dusting of snow. The centrepiece Snowman was crudely moulded in fondant and highlighted with food paints.

Mince Pies

The curiously named Mince Pie derives from a historic recipe that used mutton alongside dried fruit. The modern mince pie contains no minced meat, only animal fat, but the word “mincemeat” is still used to describe the filling. Like Christmas Cake, mincemeat is best prepared a few weeks before consumption and given time to mature. This recipe produces about 12 mince pies, but can easily be scaled for more or less.

  1. Add approximately 350g of basic dried fruit (raisins, currents, sultanas or similar) to a mixing bowl. Add some finely chopped apple and/or fruit peel. Mix in about 75g brown sugar, 50g animal fat (such as suet or lard), and some spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice). Pour over about 50ml of liquid – some combination of brandy, rum, whisky, orange and/or lemon juice (with zest). Leave to soak for several hours (or overnight). Then spoon the mincemeat firmly into a jar and store in the fridge (or cool cupboard) for a week or two.
  2. Closer to the time of eating, prepare the pies: Add 300g plain flour to a mixing bowl, cut up 200g of butter into small chunks, and meld the butter into the flour with the hands until the mixture is flaky. Add 100g of sugar and 1 egg, and mix to produce a pastry dough.
  3. Grease the holes of a pudding or muffin tin with butter. Roll the pastry onto a flat flour-dusted surface (worktop or parchment), such that the rolled pastry is large enough to allow 12 (one for each pie) circles to be cut without overlaps. Measure the circles using a circular object, such as a cup, that has a diameter roughly equal to the diameter of the holes in the pudding or muffin tin plus twice the desired depth of the pie. Retain the offcuts. Push one circle of pastry firmly into each hole of the pudding or muffin tin, creating a cup shape inside the hole.
  4. Spoon mincemeat into each of the pies. Gather the offcuts of pastry, and (depending on available material) either create complete circular tops for the pies (with small holes to prevent the pie erupting in the oven), or a partial lattice of pastry. The pastry can also be stylised as an icon or symbol. Use a small spoon to gently meld the top of each pie to its sides.
  5. Bush the top of the pies with the white of an egg then sprinkle over a little sugar. Bake in the oven at 200°c for about 15 minutes, until golden. Release from the tin once cool and store in an airtight container. Mince Pies can be served cold, or reheated.

Ginger Biscuits

Ginger Biscuits, more commonly called “gingerbread men”, are popular for all occasions, not just Christmas. These Ginger Biscuits add some variety to what is otherwise a dried-fruit based desert. This recipe will produce about 20 biscuits, obviously depending greatly on the desired size.

  1. Add 60g butter, 50g brown sugar and a heaped tablespoon of honey (of good quality, if possible) to a saucepan and gently heat while stirring, until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved into the liquid.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl combine 150g plain flour (use slightly more flour if you intend to roll out the mixture with a rolling pin, to reduce the mixture’s stickiness) with a sprinkle of bicarbonate of soda, a generous amount of powdered ginger and (less) other spices (cinnamon and nutmeg). Then gradually mix the contents of the saucepan into the flour bowl, create a fudge-like ball of dough.
  3. On a flat, lightly flour-dusted surface (worktop or parchment), immediately flatten the dough – as thin as possible without the surface breaking. Ideally use your hands, since the dough tends to stick to a rolling pin. While the dough remains warm, cut the flattened dough into biscuits using a sharp knife. To minimise offcuts, I created a template in the shape of one of Escher‘s birds (which perfectly interlock), thereafter baking “Ginger Birds”. Work quickly, so the biscuits do not go cold to the touch.
  4. Rub a little olive oil and flour onto an aluminium foil sheet, and place the biscuits at least 1cm apart (since they expand during cooking). Bake in a preheated oven at 180°c for just over 10 minutes, until just golden, but be careful not to burn the biscuits. Remove the sheet and biscuits from the oven. The biscuits will harden as they cool. Once cooled, store in an airtight container.

These recipes have been picked up from various sources, with different ideas and concepts often combined into the recipes presented here. Notable inspirations are BBC Good Food, Donna Hay, Jamie Oliver, and Nigel Slater.