I bought the special Radio Times Christmas TV schedule yesterday and had a moment’s panic because it means the Christmas countdown is on and I’ve not bought Badgerman’s present yet, or decided on a Christmas menu (French-inspired of course), and I really should get going on all these things. Add to this my deluded intention to get the girls to do some Christmas craft for the house (mainly snowflakes and stars), bake some house-shaped cakes for them to decorate in the gorgeous silicone molds I got gifted years ago and have yet to use, and make some chocolate truffles for our neighbours and Little Girl’s teachers. All this and I intend to enjoy myself too! Ah well, something’s got to give, and I suspect it’s the decorations that will get the cut.
I’ve had a crazy schedule of late despite my course being on hold due to a financial cock-up (don’t ask), between Luciole’s absolute refusal to go to bed and sleep through (up to an hour to get her down and up twice most nights), making gift tags for a craft stall I was holding at our local Christmas Fayre and learning choir parts for a little impromptu Christmas choir I am getting ready to perform at my church’s Christmas services on the 20th. Still, I love Christmas and didn’t want to post nothing so I’m doing a little round-up of past posts I’ve written. Enjoy!
Around this time of year, Britain gets taken over by a slightly bizarre (to me) early Christmas tradition. Major supermarkets and popular department stores have an unofficial competition for most soppy, heart-strings-pulling, commercially near-irrelevant, cuteness-overload Christmas advert.
John Lewis opens the flood gates everywhere and is always a strong contender for ‘Best Christmas Ad’, if there ever was such a thing.
And this year, the rightful heir to the Best Christmas Ad trophy might well be supermarket Sainsbury’s with its Christmas disaster tale as experienced by Mog the Cat.
This year, I would say these two are the main contenders but you might well disagree!
For more of the amazing Christmas ads British stores have given us this year, visit Mumsnet’s helpful 2015 round-up.
I’ve been threatening to translate this recipe from the original French for a while now, and so here it is. This is the third year I’ve made this delicious dessert for Christmas, although let it be known that it can be done for any special occasion and no one will think ‘why is there a Christmas dessert on the table?’ even if it’s in the middle of summer.
This recipe may look impressive but it is in fact very easy to make. The cake itself only takes 10 minutes to bake and is then filled and covered with chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate.
Raspberry and Lychee Chocolate Log
Serves 10 people
Preparation: 25 mins
Cooking time: 15 mins
Resting time: 1 hour for the chocolate ganache to set
For the cake:
100 g sugar
100 g flour, sifted
1 pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
For the chocolate ganache:
200 g dark chocolate (ideally around 70%)
100 mls double cream
a handful of raspberries, chopped (I used frozen raspberries from the supermarket) plus four whole raspberries for decoration
a handful of lychees, chopped (most supermarkets have them in tins)
For the chocolate icing:
100 g dark chocolate (again, 70% is preferable)
50 mls double cream
25 g glucose (for the shine)
or if you don’t have glucose (like me)
100 g dark chocolate
100 mls double cream
1. Prepare the chocolate ganache:
Bring the double cream to the boil then take off the heat and incorporate the chocolate broken into pieces. Leave it to melt for about 5 minutes and mix well.
Once it has completely melted, add pieces of raspberry and lychee to the mixture, gently mix together, and keep aside in the fridge.
2. Make the cake:
Pre-heat the oven at 200°C.
Separate the egg whites from the yolks. Beat the yolks with the sugar until the mixture whitens, then slowly add the flour.
Beat the egg whites until they stiffen, then gently add them to the batter.
On a baking tray, lay some baking paper and spread the batter over it. Lay some raspberry pieces on top of the batter.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes at 200°C (keep an eye on it as you don’t want it to burn).
3. As soon as the cake is out of the oven, lay the biscuit out on a damp towel and roll it to help it take shape.
4. Unroll the cake and spread the chocolate ganache. Sprinkle lychee pieces on top before rolling the log.
5. The icing:
Melt the chocolate and cream together in a glass bowl over a pan of boiling water (also known as a bain-marie) and mix well. If you are using glucose, add it at the end away from the heat. Ice the log and decorate as you wish.
Also worth a mention:
Lychees are not to everyone’s taste but they are actually non-essential to the success of this recipe. No one will be the wiser if you don’t put them in and you don’t need to adjust any quantities.
In summer, it also works very well with strawberries instead of raspberries.
Our Christmases are small affairs. Just us and the girls, with one or two extra guests for Christmas Lunch, usually people from church who have nowhere to go for the holiday. We spend a leisurely morning with the girls eating breakfast and opening presents, then our guest arrives and we sit down for lunch around 1.30-2 pm. The afternoon and evening are spent relaxing, playing with presents, sipping coffee, having seconds of dessert and watching the Dr Who Christmas Special.
Over the last three years, I have tested a few recipes to perfect a Christmas Day menu that both suits a small party and my French sensibilities and I think I have finally settled it. The key is to make it as tasty and stress-free as possible without losing ground on either.
I wonder at anyone who can muster the energy and motivation to cook anything for breakfast, even if it’s just scrambled eggs and bacon. If this is you, I am in awe.
I always get everyone to help with these, guest included, because I would otherwise not have time to do it all and it’s a long time to wait for your lunch without something to munch on. Just like Christmas Eve, I think there’s something slightly decadent about eat-as-you-make-them canapés, especially when they are in the form of:
This year, I am also going to make bacon-wrapped dates, which people are raving about despite the fact that they sound weird, so I am just that little bit curious.
Coquilles St Jacques: scallops served in their shell in a creamy white wine sauce and topped with breadcrumbs and cheese – these are a typical French Christmas starter. I had an intense craving for them last year and found them in Tesco, which is a good thing because I couldn’t bear the thought of making them from scratch.
Roast duck – I’ve never been a fan of turkey (my parents always cooked a capon), and anyway turkeys are way too big and expensive for us, whereas a duck will feed six and provide the fat for the roast potatoes. I have always done Delia’s super simple Roast Duck with Cherry Sauce (I looked everywhere online and couldn’t find it but it’s both in her How To Cook collection and her Christmas cookbook) and I will carry on until the end of time, it just cannot go wrong.
Chocolate, Raspberry and Lychee Yule Log: yule logs are the traditional Christmas dessert. The French recipe is here, but I will be providing a translation very soon, I promise, because no one should be without this recipe. It is so easy to make, very moreish and makes a very acceptable cake for special occasions other than Christmas
Probably some trifle too, or I will get lynched.
No Christmas pudding or Christmas cake in our house. The British love affair with fruitcake baffles me when there are so many tastier alternatives.
Merry Christmas everyone! I would love to hear what your favourite Christmas food tradition is, especially if it is a bit alternative.
In my early years in the UK, I usually went back to my parents at Christmas so I rarely experienced a full-blown British Christmas. The couple of times I did however, it was glaringly obvious that the UK and France don’t have the same traditions AT ALL when it comes to Christmas Eve, a few of which I am going to share below. This is the kind of stuff that falls under the type of culture shock experiences that take you by surprise if you’ve been in a foreign country for a while and thought you’d figured things out a bit.
This said, my French family didn’t follow any of the traditional French ways at either Christmas or New Year so this is just one person’s reflections and hardly indicative of the wider Mysterious Ways Of The French. For one, there was not an oyster to be seen ever because they’re grim and expensive and we didn’t hold with that sort of thing. That made us barely French at all in some circles.
In France, Christmas Eve (CE from now on, or I’m going to go mad) is a family affair. The whole extended family comes together for a massive all-nighter consisting of food, food and then more food. Thus I was very surprised one CE in the UK when I was invited by my friends to their annual dinner party at the Indian restaurant down the road, followed by a slightly intoxicated Midnight Mass (I hereby apologise for my fumbling down the aisle the wrong way for communion that one time). Midnight Mass does happen in France too, but I’ve never been so I don’t know how well attended it is by non-Catholics.
It is very common for Christmas dinner to be eaten over the course of the night until the early hours, rather than on Christmas Day itself. It’s called Le Réveillon, which comes from the word ‘réveiller’, to be awake. French people have various knacks to stay awake for these lengthy affairs, so like French weddings, you get a timely coffee (or onion soup, because, why not, hey?) at 1 am to carry you to the next course. I can’t imagine what that’s like to wake up on Christmas Day with a food hangover, as my family didn’t do any of this; we had our Christmas dinner on Christmas Day. Come to think of it, it may be because the rest of the year, my mum was always in bed by 9 pm, so an all-nighter was not going to be a popular choice for her.
As I said, my family was very non-traditional. It didn’t help that my mom hated (and still hates) cooking and would have gladly devolved the whole of it to me and my sister if she could get away with it, which would have been, I’ll be honest, a bit depressing, but not as depressing as not having any potatoes with your turkey because ‘we had potatoes yesterday so I didn’t think we needed them’. I still carry this particular emotional scar… This hate of cooking and effort in general led us as a family to discover the joys of frozen food and eat-as-you-cook shenanigans, and thus when my sister, brother and I became teenagers and safe to be let loose in the kitchen, we introduced our most-beloved CE tradition of all. We would spend the whole of the evening making chocolate truffles, marzipan-stuffed nuts and dates and smoked salmon/cream cheese and foie gras canapes and eating them all straight away as we made them.
I mentioned frozen food, and I know y’all are imagining Iceland frozen bites and weirdly orange offerings. Not so. You haven’t tasted frozen food until you have visited the French stores Picard and Thiriet. I was spoilt growing up with these shops just round the corner for our frozen food needs; everything therein is of Finest quality and they usually surpass themselves at Christmas time.
I have carried this tradition over, so in the main our CE dinner will consist of a selection of canape bites. My only cooking that evening will be these gorgeous lobster rolls thanks to Lidl’s lobster. But there will be absolutely no oysters.