ArchiveDecember 3, 2023


Twice last week, I got a request for a few tips on how to make really great gravy. A super tasty gravy is always part of a roast dinner and certainly an essential part of the magic of a traditional Christmas feast. 

So here are a few of my top tips.

The best gravy is made in the roasting tin after the cooked bird or joint of meat has been removed. The caramelised juices that accumulate at the bottom of the tin are packed with flavour. There will be a little fat too but skim that off carefully and save for making delicious roasties. You’ll need some really good well-flavoured stock and now is the time to start to build up a stash in your freezer. Stock is a flavoured liquid made from bones and poultry carcasses and giblets when available. Add lots of root vegetables, carrot, celery, onions, the green tops of leeks when you have them, a few peppercorns, no salt, parsley stalks, fresh herb trimmings. Fish stock takes just 20 mins to simmer and is made from fish bones, vegetable stock is made from lots of vegetables including mushroom stalks. I love to add a little ginger too, even peelings add a little extra something.

No brassicas (cabbage family) because the flavour taints the stock. No potatoes either because they soak up rather than add flavour.

Neither are beets a good idea, that’s unless you want to make Borsch or don’t mind having a pink gravy.

You’ll also need some roux to thicken the liquid gravy. As you can see from the recipe included, it’s super simple to make and a brilliant standby ingredient to keep in a covered box in the fridge.

Cranberry sauce is also made in minutes, look out for some fresh, preferably Irish cranberries, I like a simple cranberry sauce but of course you can zhush it up with citrus jest, chilli and spices or even port if you fancy.

Breadcrumbs are also great to have in the freezer, so save every scrap of stale bread, including the crusts to make into crumbs. Go the whole hog and make up a few batches of stuffing, freeze and have it ready to pop into your turkey on Christmas Day and also a traditional bread sauce if that floats your boat and it’s certainly a favourite of mine.

Now I want to add something else to this column, it’s a stollen. The traditional German Christmas Cake, a rich fruity loaf with a layer of marzipan tucked inside.

Make it now and hide it away to share with friends at Christmas. This is the recipe from my most recent book, The New Ballymaloe Bread Book. You could make several and gift them to friends, a change from the traditional Christmas Cake or maybe as well as.

Chicken Stock

This recipe is just a guideline. If you have just one carcass and can’t be bothered to make a small quantity of stock, why not freeze the carcass, and save it up until you have six or seven carcasses and giblets, then you can make a really good-sized pot of stock and get best value for your fuel.

Stock will keep for several days in the refrigerator. If you want to keep it for longer, boil it up again for 5-6 minutes every couple of days; allow it to get cold and refrigerate again. Stock also freezes perfectly. For cheap containers, use large yogurt cartons or plastic milk bottles, then you can cut them away from the frozen stock without a conscience if you need to defrost it in a hurry!

Makes about 3.5 litres

2-3 raw or cooked chicken, preferably organic carcasses, or a mixture of both giblets from the chicken (neck, heart, gizzard – save the liver for a different dish)

1 onion, sliced

1 leek, split in two

2 outside celery stalks or 2 lovage leaves

1 carrot, cut into chunks

a few parsley stalks

sprig of thyme

6 peppercorns

Chop up the carcasses as much as possible. Put all the ingredients into a saucepan and cover with about 3.4 litres (7 pints) cold water. Bring to the boil. Skim the fat off the top with a tablespoon. Simmer very gently for 3-4 hours. Strain and remove any remaining fat. Do not add salt.


For one roast chicken, double or triple the quantity for a turkey or goose.

600-900ml homemade chicken stock

flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper

After the bird or joint has roasted and been removed to a low oven to rest. Tilt the roasting tin to one corner, spoon off the surplus fat from the juices and return the roasting pan to the stove. Deglaze the pan juices with the fat free stock from the giblets and bones (you will need 600-900ml depending on the size of the chicken). Using a whisk, stir and scrape well to dissolve the caramelized meat juices in the roasting pan. Boil it up well, season and thicken with a little roux if you like (the gravy should not be thick). Taste and correct seasoning, serve in a hot gravy boat.


110g butter

110g flour

Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally.  Use as required.  Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred.  It will keep at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.

Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry Sauce is also delicious served with roast turkey, game and some rough pâtés and terrines. We enjoy this simple Cranberry Sauce best.  It will keep in your fridge for several weeks.  It is also great with white chocolate mousse or as a filling for a meringue roulade.

Fresh cranberries keep for weeks on end but also freeze perfectly.

Serves 6 approximately

175g fresh or frozen, preferably Irish cranberries

4 tablespoons water

75g granulated sugar

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 7 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar until dissolved.  It should be soft and juicy, add a little warm water if it has accidently over cooked.

Serve warm or cold.

Mary Jo’s Stollen

Taken from The New Ballymaloe Bread Book by Darina Allen, published by Gill Books

My lovely American friend and legendary baker, Mary Jo McMillin, shared this delicious stollen recipe with me.  It’s a three-day process but really worth it.

Stollen is a fruit bread, speckled with nuts, spices and dried or candied fruit, coated with icing sugar and often containing marzipan. It is a traditional German Christmas bread and apparently was baked for the first time at the Council of Trent in 1545.

Makes 2 x 700g cakes

Brandied Fruit

250g mixed fruit (sultanas, currants, candied peel and/or diced glacé cherries)

2 tablespoons brandy

Yeast Sponge Starter:

15g fresh yeast (or 1 x 7g sachet of dried yeast)

115ml tepid milk

115g strong white flour


55g caster sugar

grated rind of ½ lemon

110g butter, softened

2 eggs

5g salt

250g strong white flour

To Finish:

175g marzipan (see recipe)

2 tablespoons melted butter

3-4 tablespoons icing sugar

Day 1

Mix the dried fruit with the brandy in a bowl.  Cover with cling film and allow the fruit to macerate overnight.

Day 2

To make the yeast sponge starter, crumble the fresh or dried yeast into the tepid milk in a medium bowl.  Set aside in a warm, draught-free place.  After about 5 minutes, it should be creamy and slightly frothy on top.  Mix in the flour and beat well with a wooden spoon.  Cover with cling film and allow to rest in a warm, draught-free place for 30-45 minutes, until light and well risen.

Meanwhile, put the caster sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Add the lemon rind and rub it into sugar with your fingertips.  Add the butter and beat with the paddle attachment until creamy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between each addition.  Add the salt, scrape down the edges of the bowl with a spatula and continue to beat for 1-2 minutes, until soft.

Add the risen yeast sponge to the creamed mixture along with the 250g strong white flour.  Switch to the dough hook attachment and knead on a medium speed for 10 minutes, until the dough is silky and soft.  It should not stick to your fingers.

Cover the bowl and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for 2-2 ½ hours, until doubled in size.

Knock back the dough and scrape it out onto a clean flour-dusted surface.  Flatten to 1cm and sprinkle the brandy-soaked fruit on top.  Roll up like a Swiss roll and knead the fruit into the dough.  The dough may grow sticky but avoid adding more flour.  Scrape fruited dough into a bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Day 3

Remove the dough from the fridge and scrape it out onto a lightly floured surface.  Divide in half.  Shape each half into an oval and roll to about 2cm thick.  Make an indentation lengthways along the centre of the dough and lay a 75g long sausage-shaped piece of marzipan on it.  Fold over and press to seal.  Place each oval approximately 5cm apart on a parchment-lined baking tray.

Cover with a clean tea towel and allow to rise in a warm, draught-free place for 4-5 hours, until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4. 

Spray the loaves with a water mister.  Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, until deep golden and fully cooked.

While still hot, brush with melted butter, then sieve some icing sugar thickly over the top.

Cool well on wire racks before slicing.  The stollen will keep wrapped for four or five days and may be frozen.


So versatile and delicious.  Use marzipan to stuff croissants, brioche or pastries.

Makes 300g

110g granulated sugar

62ml water

175g ground almonds

1 small egg white

natural almond extract, to taste (do not use more than 4 drops)

Put the sugar and water in a deep saucepan over a medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Bring to the boil, then cover the pan for 2 minutes to steam any sugar from the saucepan sides.   Remove the cover and boil rapidly just to the thread stage (106-113°C on a candy thermometer).

Remove the pan from the heat.  Stir the syrup for a second or two, until cloudy.  Stir in the ground almonds.  Set aside to cool briefly.

Lightly whisk the egg white, then add the almond extract and stir this into the almond mixture.  Transfer the paste from the saucepan to a bowl.  Cool. 

Knead the cool marzipan – it should feel like moulding clay.  Put in a bowl or jar, cover and use as required. 

This will keep for months stored in a covered box in the fridge.

Top Tip – how to make breadcrumbs!

Any time you have a slice or two of bread or a heel left over, make breadcrumbs. I’ve seen breadcrumbs for sale for more than the price of a loaf of bread for a 250g bag, so let me share the secret of how simple it is to make your own.

You can make breadcrumbs by grating squares of stale bread on the coarsest part of a box grater. The breadcrumbs won’t be as uniform as those made in a food processor, but that’s fine. This doesn’t work with modern sliced bread, which tends to be more rubbery. Breadcrumbs are normally made with white yeast bread, but soda breadcrumbs are also delicious. Any time you have stale bread, get into the habit of whizzing it in the food processor, putting the breadcrumbs in a bag and popping it into the freezer. They don’t freeze solid, so you can get to them at any time. There’s something psychological about having them at the ready, which will make you more inclined to use them in stuffings, for coating fish, in plum puddings, croquettes, fish cakes and bread sauce, or as buttered crumbs or pangrattato.


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