How to Christmas provides you with rivers of knowledge from which you can create a wonderful festive season. Although we never claim to be a cookery website full of recipes and culinary know-how, we clearly appreciate food and drink are major ingredients in the celebrations. We also appreciate the beauty of gathering with family and friends to enjoy the combination of good company and delicious fayre.
So within this Parties & Hosting section we give you guidance on such topics as hosting, etiquette, cocktails, canapes and cookware – all to accompany our countdown calendar that helps you focus the preparations. Follow our Countdown Calendar and you will read our recommendations for the go-to cooks and their books, along with key food websites and apps – and through the years we have encouraged you to tackle your own Christmas puddings, cakes and mince pies. We like to think we can all give those a whirl – and to that end we have our own simple mince pie recipe on this very page. We also talk turkey. Happy feasting?
Christmas would not be complete without a traditional array of goodies filling the shelves of your cupboards, pantry, fridge and freezer. But there’s no reason why you can’t give the familiar a twist. In that vein, read on…
Biscuiteers! If you really adore Father Christmas and really want those great gifts, you will leave him a magnificently iced decorated cookie from biscuiteers.com. Bespoke orders, delightful tins, prompt delivery and decadent icing: simply special.
Stilton is a festive favourite, but if you want to take your smelly cheese up a notch try Stinking Bishop instead. This washed-rind cheese has been produced since 1972 by Charles Martell and Son at Laurel Farm, Dymock in Gloucestershire. Every four weeks while it matures, it is immersed in perry made from the local Stinking Bishop pear – hence the name. It even has Wallace & Gromit’s seal of approval.
Jaffa cakes – but not as we know them. Marks & Spencer has released festive versions in recent years in inviting deep red boxes with non-orange fillings, like cherry and cranberry.
If you enjoy mince pies, you’ll be tempted by this – Joe & Seph’s mince pie flavoured popcorn. There’s Christmas in every crunch.
Stollen cake is a national treasure in Germany and was first created as a Christmas bread in 1545, since when the recipe has been adapted many times. But its stollen bites that we recommend as a twist on the original, especially those produced by Booths. A word of warning: they’re incredibly moreish.
Champagne is a Christmas treat to savour. Madame Bollinger said of Champagne: “I drink it when I am happy and when I am sad. Sometimes I drink it when I am alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory.” Search out bubbly by Duval-Leroy, one of the last Champagne houses still entirely family-owned.
Fortnum & Mason’s Madeira is delicious, but there’s also the superb Christmas Pudding Madeira from this renowned Piccadilly store. Perfect with cheese after your edible Christmas pudding.
How about a mince pie martini? Don’t mind if I do. Tipplesworth Mince Pie Cocktail Maker Syrup is the key ingredient. Find the syrup and the recipe at tipplesworth.com.
Edinburgh-based Pickering’s Gin developed a distinctive Christmas blend in 2019…Brussels Sprout Gin. Believed to be a world first, the company used 10,000 Brussels sprouts in their gin. That’s enough for 2,000 Christmas dinners. Pickering’s describes the flavour as “a surprisingly sweet, slightly nutty taste with a green, herbaceous and peppery twang.”
Bettys Christmas Delights
We adore Bettys at Christmas and this year promises to be as heartwarming as ever at the speciality tea room shops across Yorkshire, with its ‘Window Unveiling’ in Harrogate in early November the start of the festive season for many.
You can also search out gifts for your loved ones, order hampers and more. Christmas puddings come in three sizes and are delicious. Pick up a catalogue or visit bettys.co.uk for more information.
Daylesford Organic Farm is a superb place to visit in the build up to Christmas, set as it is in the idyllic Cotswolds. But you can also order online at daylesford.com
All the food produced and sold there is organic and the quality is exemplary. We especially recommend the delicious Christmas cakes, melt-in-the-mouth mince pies and joyful Christmas puddings.
Roast Turkey – Simple Not Stuffed
Frozen Turkey Advice: We recommend you start with a fresh grain-fed turkey – but understand a frozen turkey might be more convenient. If you buy a frozen bird ensure it has been frozen without added water. It is crucial you allow plenty of time for it to defrost slowly and thoroughly. Remove all packaging, remove the neck and giblets from the inner cavity and then rest the turkey on a tray to catch any liquid as it defrosts. Cover the turkey before putting it in the fridge. Defrosting in the bottom of the fridge is recommended so there can be no spills onto food below it. If you don’t have enough room in the fridge you can defrost the bird in a cool place like a garage, away from children and pets. It can take a couple of days for a large turkey to thaw. There will be guidelines on the packaging. Never cook a partially frozen turkey as it may cook unevenly and harmful bacteria could survive. Wash your hands and all utensils and work surfaces after handling poultry. Visit www.NHS.uk and check their Healthy Christmas section for more guidelines.
Fresh Turkey Advice: Remove the outer packaging, take the neck and giblets from the inner cavity (use for stock or discard) and rinse the turkey under cold water. Pat the skin dry with paper towels. Put the turkey in a roasting tray, sprinkle with salt and black pepper and leave it overnight in the fridge on Christmas Eve night. Always disinfect the sink after the rinsing process and thoroughly wash your hands and all utensils and cutting boards/work surfaces after handling raw poultry.
Cooking Day: Take the fresh or defrosted turkey from the fridge two hours before cooking and liberally cover the skin with softened butter. Put it on a wire rack in the roasting tray. Cover it with aluminium foil. Place one large sheet lengthways and the other widthways and bring together to make a sealed foil dome. Make sure there is room between the skin and foil to allow air to circulate. Leave the covered turkey at room temperature until you are ready to put it in the oven. The rack will allow the juices to drip from the bird while cooking and also allow heat to circulate, reducing cooking time.
Oven Temperature: Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 7 (that’s 425 degrees Fahrenheit, 220 degrees Celsius, 200C fan) and cook the turkey at that temperature for the first 20 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to gas mark 4 (350F, 180C, 160C fan) until the final 20 minutes of cooking time. At that point, remove the foil, increase the heat to gas mark 6 (400F, 200C, 180C fan) and allow the turkey to brown. Baste the bird with its own juices for an extra golden colour. Basting every hour of cooking is recommended.
Cooking Times: There will be instructions on the packaging to guide you on cooking times. But at the oven temperatures we suggest what follows is a decent rule of thumb:
10lb turkey… around 2 hours in total (feeds up to 8 people)
15lb turkey…around 2 hours 45 minutes (feeds up to 12 people)
20lb turkey…around 3 hours 30 minutes (feeds up to 15 people)
If you prefer to work in metric weights this should help:
At a steady gas mark 4 (350 degrees Fahrenheit, 180 degrees Celsius, 160C fan) –
Allow 45 minutes per kg plus 20 minutes for a 4.5kg turkey
Allow 40 minutes per kg for a turkey that’s between 4.5 & 6.5kg
Allow 35 minutes per kg for a turkey that’s over 6.5kg
Remember, these are cooking times for turkeys without stuffing. Stuffed turkeys take considerably longer. Turkey crowns and turkey rolls will have shorter cooking times – and again instructions will come with the packaging.
Almost Time to Serve: Ovens vary so check the turkey is cooked through. Stick a skewer in the turkey thigh and/or breast and ensure the juices are clear in colour and not at all pink. The legs should have some ‘give’ in them as well. If you are using a food thermometer, make certain the thickest part of the bird – between the breast and thigh – reaches 70 degrees Celsius for two minutes. Always be prepared to cook the turkey a little longer if necessary. Once you are happy it is cooked through but not overdone, leave it to rest for another 30 minutes on a carving platter. Then you will be ready to carve.
375g plain flour; 260g unsalted butter; 125g caster sugar; 2 eggs; 600g mincemeat; Icing sugar for dusting
1 – Rub the flour and softened butter together in a bowl to create a crumb-like mixture. Mix in the sugar and one egg. Fold the mixture on a lightly floured surface until the pastry forms. Do not overwork the mixture.
2 – Roll it out to 3mm thickness and use a 10cm round cutter to make 16 bases for the mince pie tin. Make the remainder of the pastry into 7cm circles for the lids.
4 – Beat the second egg and dab it round the edge of each mince pie. Gently press on the lids and seal. Add pastry decoration if you wish. Brush the rest of the beaten egg onto each mince pie and cut a small hole in each lid.
5 – Bake for 15-20 minutes at 220 degrees Celsius (200C fan, gas mark 7, 425F). Once golden on top, remove from the oven and allow them to cool. Take the pies out of the tin and rest on a wire rack. Dust them with icing sugar. Pile them invitingly on a festive plate and top with a sprig of seasonal greenery. Irresistible.
Did you know…Altmarkt Square in the heart of the German city of Dresden has held a Striezelmarkt since the mid-15th century – one of the oldest festive markets in Germany – and has Stollen at the centre of the celebrations? Since 1434, the market has preserved its distinctive character. The market’s name comes from the Christmas bread Stollen, which is also known as “Striezel” in Middle High German. Every year the traditional Stollen Festival is celebrated in honour of this delicacy and each year the ceremonial first slice of the giant Stollen at the Striezelmarkt is followed by a Stollen procession through the Baroque Old Town.
Chocolate Panettone Bread & Butter Pudding
Sliced Chocolate Panettone; 60g Raspberries; 60g Sour cherries; 60g Caster Sugar; 150ml Red wine; 175ml Double cream; 175ml Milk; 2 Tblspns Raspberry Jam; 2 Tblspns Chocolate drops; 2 Blocks unsalted butter; 5 Eggs; 1 Lemon
2 – Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees C (160 fan oven) or gas mark 4.
3 – Butter slices of panettone and cut into approximate 6cm quarters.
4 – Butter a large baking dish. Put layers of slightly overlapping panettone in the dish.
5 – Drain the berries/cherries and keep the liquid. Put half the berries over the first layer of panettone. Sprinkle on a few chocolate drops.
6 – Put the other buttered slices on top and cover with the rest of the berries/cherries. Add a few chocolate drops to taste, but this is not essential. You may feel there is enough chocolate sprinkled through the panettone itself.
7 – In a large jug (more than 570ml in volume), pour in milk, cream, 50ml more of red wine and the liquid saved from the berries/cherries. Stir together.
8 – Beat five eggs and add to the mixture in the jug. Lightly whisk in the caster sugar and the zest of one lemon. Pour the liquid over the panettone in the baking dish.
9 – Put the dish on a baking tray and bake for 50 minutes. The pudding should be set but light in the centre and crispy on top when finished.
10 – Five minutes from the end of baking, warm the jam and glaze the top of the pudding. Add just a few chocolate drops. Leave the pudding to settle for 10 minutes after baking. Serve with ice cream or thick fresh cream.
Elf Helper: If you are giving homemade food as gifts, remember to attach a tag or label outlining use-by dates, storage instructions and any possible re-heating details.
Christmas puddings are every bit as much a part of a quintessential British Yuletide as Christmas crackers, greetings cards and mince pies and, like many traditions in the UK, have a strong link to Victorian times. Click here to view our Christmas Puddings page in the How to Christmas Traditions section.
The page includes a brief history, pudding poems and our favourite puddings providers. If it’s a Christmas pudding recipe you require, we love Nigella’s “Ultimate Christmas Pudding”, using Pedro Ximenez sherry – which is a sweet, dark and sticky sherry with a hint of liquorice, fig and treacle. You’ll find the recipe on Pages 137 to 139 of the book “Nigella Christmas”.
Cut an orange into quarters and pierce the skin of each piece with two to three cloves. Squeeze the juices from a second orange into a pan and add the orange quarters, two tablespoons of brown sugar, two cinnamon sticks, a bottle of full-bodied, fruity red wine – like a Shiraz and a dash of brandy to your own taste. Warm gently over a low heat for approximately 10 minutes before serving in latte-style mugs.
Frozen Option: COOK is the name of the company. Edward and Dale opened a small shop in Farnham, Surrey in 1997 selling hand-prepared frozen food, with the dream of becoming the best ever makers of ready meals. They have now grown to more than 80 shops around the country. On their website at cookfood.net they say: “When you don’t have the time, inclination or, dare we say, talent… we COOK so you don’t have to.” COOK’s gourmet Christmas Lunch includes the classic Christmas dishes and is ready in less than three hours, alleviating the need for late-night peeling or early-morning chopping.
Christmas is a great time of celebration. Intimate gatherings with family and friends can be some of the most memorable. Dinner parties are, therefore, occasions that perfectly lend themselves to the creation of happy memories. It is just to be hoped social distancing measures don’t get in the way of us enjoying such gatherings this year. If not, here are some guidelines.
Your cookery skills – make an honest assessment
The number of people you are to host
The space you have to prepare the meal
The crockery and kitchenware available
The number of ovens, grills and hobs you can use
The fridge and freezer space for holding ingredients and prepared dishes
The amount you wish to spend
Your guests’ specific dietary requirements, including awareness of food allergies
You can always set the table the night before if you wish. Tablecloths and napkins may need ironing, glasses may require polishing and candles and table decorations will need setting out. Get out pans, baking trays and serving dishes and double check you have enough cling film and tinfoil for covering dishes once cooked or prepared. Some dishes can be prepared in advance and then frozen without detracting from their flavour. Soups, numerous main courses and puddings can all be cooked and frozen. Search cookery books and internet sites to find those dishes most suitable.
Balance the menu. For example, serving three courses all featuring pastry or bread may make the meal rather stodgy. If you are aware of your guests’ food preferences, creating the menu will be easier. If not, simple dishes that allow diners to select sauces served on the side may be a safer option. Bear in mind that some diners may not welcome certain foods like liver, anchovies or mussels. If they are included in the meal then use them as a part of a dish rather than the main event. Tempering extravagance of flavour or cookery flair does not mean your menu has to be boring. Family and friends will always appreciate simple, tasty, quality food served in a welcoming atmosphere with a convivial host. Essentially, if you want to make a dinner party run smoothly – or are simply honing your hosting and cookery skills – a menu that has as few potential pitfalls as possible is the safest bet. Plan carefully, prepare well in advance and your evening will go wonderfully well.