I love Christmas. No matter how many relatives I trap, or number of Brussels sprouts I fit into them, my family are always so patient and biddable. If I was a cynical person, I might think they’ve been sponsored by Grey Goose. Or Colombia.
No. I love Christmas. And Christmas loves me. I say pah! to the irresponsible naysayers, convinced that Christmas has been colonised by capitalism. Eh, hullo? Christmas is a hobby dudes, not an industry – like knitting, or running for presidency.
So don’t let the naysayers twerk your synapses with their windy sermons. My synapses are on Annual Leave during yuletide. It’s the only time of year I can justifiably hold a pair of cashmere socks and demand they be publically inaugurated on my feet. Or hold my local Odd Bin wine tasting to ransom, again, without inciting a criminal record. I love how unreasonable I can be – it’s like the mothership of PMT with national immunity.
I am also acutely aware that this may be the only time my saffron apricots will ever make fully-grown homo sapiens weep. If my frolicking has taught me anything, other than the limits to my belt-expansion, it is that how food tastes qualifies as only one segment of its true appeal. When is just as crucial to our taste buds because of the memories it can set in motion. And who plays a decisive role in a food’s celebration. Nothing demonstrates this better than Christmas.
So here are my traditional Christmas family recipes I start pimping from as early as the mocks (Thanks Giving). Each dish is suffused with giddy memories and industrial amounts of Dean Martin. They are the purveyors of mirth and merriment.
Happy Christmas y’all! May endless mistletoe and sherry be upon you.
Walnut & Rosehip Cookies
You can store the cookie dough in the freezer, rolled up like a log. When the mood arrests you, unleash your inner cookie monster and high-five your genius.
130g (5oz) walnuts
1 teabag of rosehip tea
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
120g (5oz) brown rice flour or plain gluten free flour
80g (3oz) oat flakes
135ml (4.5floz) brown rice syrup
125ml (4floz) extra virgin coconut oil, melted
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees, gas mark 4 or 350 Fahrenheit.
Briefly pulse the dry ingredients in a food processor until they resemble big breadcrumbs. These include the walnuts, the contents of one bag of rosehip tea, the baking powder, the ginger, the flour and your oats. Now add your melted coconut oil and the fabulous sticky brown rice syrup. Pulse again until a big dough ball forms in the basin of your food processor. Parachute some flaky sea salt on top.
Freeze half the mixture for another day (stonking good idea, no?) With the remaining dough, pull off an apricot-sized piece and roll into a ball between your palms. Press down on a lined baking tray, using two or three of your fingers to make a nice cookie indent. Mine work out at about 2-3mm thick.
Bake for 10-12 minutes depending on their size, but no longer, promise me! Don’t worry if they seem soft or undercooked – the cookies harden once cooled. Flipping fabulous.
No-Bake Ninjabread Men
A note for wily mums; you can replace some of the ground almonds with milled flaxseed or hemp powder, to inject some omega-3 artillery into your little ones.
4 tablespoons extra virgin coconut oil
3 tablespoons maple syrup
100g (4oz) ground almonds
1-2 teaspoons ground ginger
Pinch of unrefined salt
Gently melt your coconut oil in a small pan over a shy flame. Remove from heat and stir through the remaining ingredients. Scrape the mixture out over a sheet of baking parchment. Press it into a rough dough ball, then place another sheet of parchment over it and flatten with a pastry rolling pin. You’re looking for a couple of mm in depth.
Transfer to the freezer for 10 minutes, until barely set. Alternatively, you can freeze for up to 3 month and let thaw for 5 minutes before cutting into gingerbread men. Choose a cookie cutter, and off you go! No need to bake. We store ready-to-eat gingerbread men in a freezer bag, waiting for unexpected playdates and midnight munchies.
Florentines are disproportionately difficult to make after a few sherries. So, my version will liberate you while still generating rapturous applause. Fa la la la lahhh …
75g (3oz) 70-85% chocolate
1 tablespoon shelled pistachios
1 tablespoon crystallised ginger
1 tablespoon goji berries
Pinch of sea salt flakes
Handful toasted pecans
Melt the chocolate in a bain-marie. This is basically a pot containing 1-inch (2.5cm) of gently simmering water, with a bowl sitting on top in place of a lid. The contents of the bowl will melt gradually by the steam of the water, without actually touching the water. This can be a bit boring, so switch on some Bing Crosby and resuscitate your Santa hat.
As soon as the chocolate has melted, use a tablespoon to make teeny puddles of chocolate across a large strip of non-stick parchment. On top of every puddle, add one of each remaining ingredient – a pistachio, a small chunk of crystallised ginger, a goji berry, pinch of salt flakes and 1 toasted pecan. Allow to cool (but not chill) and solidify before peeling them off and storing in your mouth.
Lapsang Souchung Christmas Cake
Amy Chaplin was the midwife of this genius. New York City (and my brain) is a better place because of it. Amy is The Snazzmaster of good vegan grub. Feel free to use Early Grey or green tea instead of smokey Lapsang. And parachute some goji berries in there too.
Olive oil for brushing parchment
200g (7oz) roasted hazelnuts
75g (2.5oz) unsulphured dark apricots
210g (7.5oz) regular pitted dates
375ml (13floz) hot, strong Lapsang Souchung tea
375g (13oz) seedless raisins
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
zest 1 unwaxed orange
180g (6.5oz) walnuts or salted pistachios
Fire up your oven to 150 Celsius, gas mark 2. Line a 12×12 inch springform cake tin with some oiled parchment paper.
Grind the hazelnuts in a food processor. Tip into a large mixing bowl and set aside. No need to clean the food processor – you’ll be using it later.
Now soak the apricots and dates in 1 cup of hot tea (250ml / 8floz) for 10 minutes. Drain well, and set aside.
With the remaining half-cup of hot tea (125ml/4floz), boil your raisins. Stir, cover pot, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove lid, and continue to cook for a few more minutes or until all the tea has cooked off and the raisins are bursting with plumpness. Juicy juicy.
Spin the cooked raisins in your food processor with all the spices and zest. Blend until smooth. Tumble this paste into the bowl of ground hazelnuts, along with the drained apricot mix. Fold really well. Now stir through your walnuts and/or pistachios.
Press the cake mix into your prepped tin, and smooth the top. If you have extra nuts, you can decorate the edges. Bake for 1 hour, or until set. Eject from the oven and allow to cool completely before removing from tin. This cake will store for 3-4 weeks in the fridge. Serve thinly, with brandy butter and a good boxset.