‘A Simply Delicious Christmas’

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Can you believe it’s 25 years since my ‘Simply Delicious Christmas’ was first published, I had brown hair and red glasses and had just done my first Simply Delicious series on television. The response amazed us all and was so overwhelmingly positive that Michael Gill commissioned a second book in time for the festive season.

It was written and photographed in just five busy weeks, and that little green paperback solved many people’s Christmas present dilemma that year. It included many of our favourite Christmas recipes, a delicious moist Christmas cake encrusted in toasted marzipan, Ballymaloe mincemeat, and mince pies with a dreamy shortcrust pastry. The traditional roast stuffed turkey and goose are there and a sugary caramel glazed ham studded with cloves, and of course there was Mummy’s favourite trifle, and both my Mum’s and Mother-in-law’s plum pudding. What a saga that was – the latter had a misprint in the measurements which caused a great furore and prompted a cartoon in the Sun and an interview on the Gay Byrne Show to clarify the situation. I often see a copy of that original, greatly coveted paperback on peoples’ kitchen shelves tattered from use but much loved. Well 25 years later Gill and Macmillan have published a brand new hard-back edition. Many of the old favourites are still there, but I’ve included over 100 new recipes. Much has changed in those 25 years apart from the colour of my hair….ingredients, expectations. After all, I remember a time when a cap-gun or a Beano annual, or even a tangerine in your Christmas stocking, was a cause for excitement. Pomegranates were beyond exotic and certainly not widely available as they are now.

Crown roasts of turkey are now an easy option for the many white meat lovers, consequently those of us who love brown meat can often have the legs at bargain price.

I have discovered the magic of brining, not only for the turkey, but also for the chicken and pork. It’s a brilliant way to transform even a mundane turkey into something quite delicious.

There’s also lots of advice gleaned over many years on how to ‘survive’ Christmas, and a whole raft of tips and suggestions on how you too can have fun rather than feeling utterly resentful and exhausted. Unless you are a super hero or modern-day saint, one can’t do it all oneself. So make yourself a cup of coffee, put your feet up and accept that Christmas is not just one day it’s an 8 to 10 day affair, and start to make lists and plans.   A rough draft of 9 to 10 day menus is a brilliant idea. Use the left-overs for the next meal, for example ham or spiced beef. Also, allocate a couple of hours on several days to cook for the freezer, stock up on chunky soups and stews and bread crumbs for stuffings. A few frosted meringue cakes and maybe tangerine sorbets…then you have a cushion of staples to see you through any situation. It’s a good plan to freeze in small portions. They can be defrosted easily singly, or three or four at a time, if a group of pals unexpectedly turn up. A few tubs of stew or tagine can be defrosted in minutes.

Meanwhile, if you have not already made the basic Christmas comfort foods, it’s time to get started. These are the tastes that Irish Christmases are made of.  There are recipes for several delicious plum puddings in the Christmas book, but here’s a lighter version you may enjoy as well or instead of the original. Also, a delicious light Christmas cake instead of the richer traditional version. There are also several gluten and fat free mince-meat recipes so have fun….

 

Darina Allen’s ‘A Simply Delicious Christmas’ is published by Gill & Macmillan.

 

Frosted Meringue Christmas Pudding with Chocolate Sauce and Toasted Hazelnuts

 

It’s fun to bring this chocolate covered ‘pudding’ to the table with sparklers on top.  Other meringue flavours may also be used, but we love this combination.

Serves 6

150g (5oz) Hazelnut Meringue (see recipe)

1/2 – 1 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon of finely grated orange rind

600ml (1 pint/2 1/2 cups) softly whipped cream

150g (5oz) good quality chocolate, melted

15g (1/2oz) peeled, toasted hazelnuts or hazelnut praline (see recipe)

 

Decoration

sprinkles or sparklers

1.2 litre (2 pint) pint pudding bowl

Line the pudding bowl with a double thickness of cling film.

First make the Hazelnut Meringue (see recipe).

 

Break the hazelnut meringue into chunks and put into a wide bowl.  Sprinkle the ground cinnamon and orange rind over the meringue.  Fold in the whipped cream.  Pour into the lined pudding bowl, pressing down well.  Cover with cling film and freeze overnight.

 

To Serve

Melt the chocolate in a Pyrex bowl over simmering but not boiling water (make sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water).  Allow the chocolate to cool a little while you turn the frosted meringue pudding out onto a serving plate.  Pour the chocolate over the pudding, allowing it to drop down the edges (the chocolate will go solid).

 

Decorate with peeled and toasted hazelnuts or Hazelnut Praline (see recipe) and sprinkles or sparklers.

Hazelnut Meringue

1 1/2oz (45g) toasted and peeled hazelnuts

2 egg whites

4 1/2oz (125g/1 cup) icing sugar

 

Check that the bowl is dry, spotlessly clean and free of grease.

 

Meanwhile put the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and bake until the skins start to flake away. Rub off the skins with a cloth and chop the hazelnuts roughly.

 

Mark two 19cm (7 1/2) circles or heart shapes on silicone paper or a prepared baking sheet. Mix all the sugar with the egg whites at once and beat until the mixture forms stiff dry peaks. Fold in the hazelnuts. Divide the mixture between the 2 circles or heart shapes and spread evenly with a palette knife. Bake immediately in a cool oven, 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2 for 45 minutes or until crisp they should peel off the paper easily, turn off the oven and allow to cool.

Hazelnut Praline

110g (4oz) toasted and peeled hazelnuts

110g (4oz/1/2 cup) sugar

 

Put the hazelnuts with the sugar into a heavy saucepan over a low heat until the sugar gradually melts and turn a caramel colour. Stir if necessary. When the caramel stage is reached, and not before, carefully rotate the pan until the nuts are all covered with caramel.  When the nuts go ‘pop’, pour this mixture onto a lightly oiled Swiss roll tin, marble slab or parchment lined tray. Allow to get quite cold. When the praline is quite hard, crush in a food processor or with a rolling pin, the texture should be quite coarse and gritty.

 

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Light Christmas Cake

This light fruit cake was Mummy’s favourite. She used Royal Icing and made a snow scene with Santa standing on top – thanks for the memories.

 

Makes 35 pieces

225g (8oz) butter

225g (8oz) castor sugar

4 large or 5 small eggs

275g (10oz) flour

50g (2oz) ground almonds

50g (2oz) whole almonds

a pinch of salt

⅛ teaspoon bread soda, dissolved in 1 teaspoon milk

Grated rind of 1 orange

200g (7oz) sultanas

200g (7oz) raisins

50g (2oz) currants

100g (4oz) home-made chopped candied peel

50g (2oz) cherries, cut in quarters

 

Icing:

Almond Paste:

175g (6oz) ground almonds

175g (6oz) castor sugar

1 small free range or organic egg

1 drop of almond extract

2 teaspoons of whiskey

 

Beaten egg white or apricot jam for applying the almond paste

 

Fondant Icing:

560g (1¼lb) ready to roll fondant icing

 

Corn flour for rolling out

Vodka to brush over almond paste

 

Decorations – optional – Santas, candied angelica, holly leaves

1 cake tin 20.5cm x 33cm (8 inch x 12 inch) x 5cm (2 inch) deep,  lined with parchment paper.

Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/gas mark 2

 

Blanch the whole almonds in boiling water for 1 or 2 minutes, rub off the skins and chop.  Mix all the fruit together with the cherries, peel, ground and chopped almonds. Cream the butter until really soft, add in the castor sugar and beat until light and creamy.  Whisk the eggs and add in bit by bit, beating well between each addition.  Add the grated orange rind, stir in the flour and all of the fruit.  Dissolve the bread soda in the milk and stir thoroughly through the mixture.  Spoon into the prepared tin and bake in the preheated oven for 50 minutes to 1 hour.  Allow to get cold, turn out of the tin and wrap in greaseproof paper until ready to ice.

 

To make the Almond Paste:

Sieve the castor sugar and mix with the ground almonds.  Beat the egg; add the almond extract and whiskey.   Add to the dry ingredients and mix to a stiff paste (you may not need all the egg.)

 

To ice the Cake

Brush the top of the cake with beaten egg white or apricot jam.

 

Sprinkle the work top with icing sugar.  Roll the almond paste into a rectangle slightly larger than the cake.  Roll the almond paste over the rolling pin, then unroll over the cake.  Press carefully onto the cake.  Allow to dry for at least four hours, or preferably overnight.

 

When ready to apply the fondant icing, brush the almond paste with vodka or other non-coloured spirit.

Next apply the fondant icing.  Roll out again slightly larger than the cake.  Roll over the rolling pin and then unroll over the cake.   Press lightly.

 

Decorate if you wish with Santas, candied angelica, or holly but it looks great just as it is.

 

Cut the cake into 35 pieces (5 across x 7 on the length) or to whatever size you prefer.

 

Emer’s Mincemeat

This delicious recipe, developed by Emer Fitzgerald, tutor at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, is suet-free and suitable for vegetarians.

 

Makes 6 pots

700g (1½lb) Bramley cooking apples, peeled and chopped

1 orange, rind and juice

1 lemon, rind and juice

330ml (11fl.oz) cider or apple juice

500g (18 oz) Barbados sugar

500g (18 oz) sultanas

250g (9oz) currants

125g (4½ oz) mixed candied peel

100ml (3½ fl.oz) Irish whiskey

1 teaspoon mixed spice

 

Place the apples, orange and lemon juice and rind and cider in a large saucepan.  Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the apple has cooked.  Stir in the sugar, mixed spice, mincemeat, sultanas, currants and candied peel.    Stir until the sugar is dissolved, then simmer for a further 15 minutes.   Remove from the heat, allow to cool.   Stir in the whiskey and pot into sterilized jars.

 

Ballymaloe Mince Pies with various toppings with Irish Whiskey Cream

 

Makes 20-24 mince pies

Pastry

225g (8oz/2 cups) plain flour

175g (6oz/3/4 stick) butter

a pinch of salt

1 dessertspoon icing sugar

a little beaten egg or egg yolk and water to bind

450g (1lb) Emer’s Mincemeat (see recipe)

egg wash

 

Sieve the flour into a bowl, cut the butter into 1/2 inch (1cm) approx. 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 not be wet or sticky. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for 1 hour.

 

Roll out the pastry until quite thin – about 1/8 of an inch, stamp out into rounds 3 inches (7.5cm) 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 etc.

 

Bake the mince pies in a preheated moderate oven 180°C/350°F/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.

 

We have so much fun with mince pies and do lots of variations.  Sometimes we press out a star shape from the top, so the mincemeat is visible, then we use that star to cover the next one, a tiny heart can be put on top of another.

 

All mince pies with a pastry top, need to be brushed with egg wash before going into the oven.

 

Mince Pies with Meringue

 

Meringue

1 egg white

50g (2oz/1/4 cup) castor sugar

 

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.

 

Make the meringue.

 

Line the tins with pastry rounds and mincemeat.  Pipe a blob of meringue on top.

Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes.  Turn off the oven and allow the meringue to cool in the oven.

 

 

Mince Pies with Almond Crumble

 

110g (4oz/1 cup) self-raising flour

75g (3oz/scant 1/2 cup) castor sugar

75g (3oz/3/4 stick) chilled butter

25g (1oz) flaked almonds

 

Line the tins and fill as in master recipe, but do not put another pastry round on top of the pies.

Mix together the flour and sugar and then rub in the butter with your fingertips to make a coarse crumble.  Add the flaked almonds.  Sprinkle a generous teaspoon of crumble on top of each mince pie.  Bake for 15-20 minutes.

 

 

Irish Whiskey Cream

1 teaspoon icing sugar

1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) Irish whiskey

225ml (8fl oz/1 cup) whipped cream

 

Fold the sugar and whiskey into the cream.

 

Hot Tips

Pop-Up dinner in the BIG SHED on Ballymaloe Farm Saturday 6th December. Ted Berner and Ivan Whelan will coo up a storm for the Ring Table Dinner. The exciting set menu will cost €50 and  may contain wheat, meat and alcohol! Booking is essential, please text Roisin 086 1905605

Slow Food West Cork Terra Madre Day Event Thursday 10th December,Organico Cooks the Books! Come and join Slow Food West Cork for a bite to eat and a glass of wine on “Good, Clean and Fair” Terra Madre Day in the newly and beautifully extended Organico Cafe on 10th December at 5pm. It will be a celebration of 3 great books and short talks by the authors: Giana Ferguson, Karen Austin and Sally McKenna with a convivial, casual supper in Organico Cafe using inspiration from each book. €20 members/€25 for non members. To avoid disappointment; advanced booking essential via email to organicobantry@gmail.com, or call Organico Cafe on 027 55905

Christmas Cooking with Rachel Allen, Friday 12th December at Ballymaloe Cookery School. We are delighted to tell you that we have put on an extra 1 day Christmas cookery course with Rachel Allen on Friday 12th December at the Ballymaloe Cookery School (the earlier one on Monday 8th December is fully booked). So this is your chance to gather a few pals together or come alone to discover a whole raft of delicious Christmas dishes for entertaining and family and lots of tips not only on how to survive but also enjoy the festive season. All of the dishes can be prepared ahead – could be a super pre-Christmas pressie for a fun day just for you. Bookings telephone 4646785, email www.cookingisfun.ie.

Highbank Orchards Christmas Food and Craft Fair 13th and 14th December. Another date for your diary. The Christmas Food and Craft Fair at Highbank Organic Farm, Cuffesgrane Co. Kilkenny,  over 30 local stalls, orchard train rides, puppet shows, cookery demonstration, Christmas trees and nature trails. Did you know that Highbank is the smallest distillery in Ireland, the official opening is on 13th December at 12 noon. Ticket prices and bookings see www.biabeag.com. Email sales@highbankorchards.com and phone: 056 7729918.

 

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Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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