Sunday, 13 November 2011

Let's make Christmas

I have to confess, my thoughts have already started to turn to Christmas. This happens every year in my attempt to get organized. I emphasize the word attempt here.
Last year, I made some chocolate truffles for friends and family. I really enjoyed the experience of making my own gifts, which were, thankfully, very well received.
So, I was absolutely delighted to be asked to participate in Let's make Christmas by the fabulous Vanessa Kimbell. I’m really looking forward to attending this event at Fortnum and Mason next Friday and catching up with some of my favourite food bloggers.

My thoughts quickly turned to what I shall make. I have to confess that I am not a huge fan of dried fruit (with the exception of glacé cherries), so anything I make for Christmas tends to use as little dried fruit as possible. I really don’t like Christmas pudding or most Christmas cakes (I can, however, make an exception for a very good mince pie), so I wanted to try something different.
I have tried and tested all recipes and given them to my friends, family and colleagues, who enjoyed all of them, and have said they will be trying them at home, so I hope that bodes well given that one of my foodie heroes, Dan Lepard is judging after all. No pressure!
So, as per the rules of the competition, here is what I will be entering.
First up, as you would expect, is a cake, and it is my alternative Christmas cake. It’s a Chocolate and Chestnut cake. Seasonal, yet different and perfect for Christmas entertaining. Next up is one of my favourite festive drinks: mulled cider. I recently discovered this at our favourite pub in Oxfordshire, the Trout in Wolvercote. It’s a little bit different, but totally delicious. And finally, in the jar-based products category, is actually my favourite preserve of all time; dulce de leche. Yes, it’s not festive per sé, but I think it makes a sensational gift, and a real change from jams and chutneys. I discovered dulce de leche when I spent a month travelling around Argentina after University. My friends and I decided to take the budget option and stay in youth hostels the length and breadth of the country. The only option for breakfast at every hostel we visited, from La Pampa in the north to Ushuaia, at the tip of the country (and the southernmost city on Earth) was bread and dulce de leche. I was actually genuinely upset when my suitcase-smuggled supplies ran out upon my return to Blightly, having become thoroughly addicted throughout the course of the month, with dulce de leche ice creams every day, alfajores and dulce de leche on bread every morning. On reflection, it is a wonder I didn’t need a seatbelt extension for the return journey given how much delicious yet wickedly unhealthy food I had consumed during my travels.
I digress. My recipes are below, with some cheeky preview photos of my trials. I will update this post after friday’s event.
Chocolate & Chestnut cake

Wheat and gluten free
Serves 8-10
  • 250g dark chocolate, broken up into in chunks
  • 250g unsalted butter, cubed
  • 200g pack of peeled and cooked chestnuts (I use Merchant Gourmet)
  • 250ml whole milk
  • 80g vanilla sugar (I use homemade, recipe from Prepped)
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 125g caster sugar (again, I use homemade vanilla sugar as above)
1. Preheat the oven to 170°c/Gas Mark 3 and grease and line a 9” diameter springform  cake tin.
  1. Melt the chocolate and butter together in a pan over a very gentle heat or alternatively in the microwave for a minute or two. 
  2. In another pan, heat the chestnuts with the milk sugar for around 30 minutes. I keep a lid on to stop the milk from evaporating. When the chestnuts are soft, I blitz them in the food processor.
  3. Put the egg yolks in a bowl and mix with the caster sugar. I use an electric whisk or the Kitchen Aid for this. Stir in the melted chocolate mixture and the chestnut purée until you have a smooth mixture. 
  4. Whisk the egg whites until stiff and fold them carefully into the chocolate and chestnut mixture.
  5. Transfer the mixture to the greased, lined tin and bake for around 45- 50
Festive Mulled Cider

  • Around 2 bottles of good quality dry English Cider
  • 500ml apple juice
  • 50g Vanilla sugar (again, I use homemade)
  • 50g Cardamom sugar (ditto homemade from Prepped)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 6 few cloves
  • 4 Star anise
  • 1” root ginger, sliced
  • 100ml good quality Brandy
  1. Put all the ingredients into a saucepan over a low heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. 
  2. Bring to just under a boil and leave for at least twenty minutes before serving. 
  3. Make sure the cider does not boil
  4. Serve in glasses whilst hot.
Dulce de Leche
Makes one 450g jar
  • 1x 450g (appx) jar of sweetened condensed milk
  • A little sea salt (I use Maldon or Cornish Sea Salt)
  1. Preheat the oven to 220° C
  2. Pour the jar of sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk) into a Pyrex dish and stir in the sea salt
  3. Place the Pyrex dish within a larger Pyrex dish, and add hot water to the larger dish (I use water from a recently boiled kettle) until it reaches halfway up the side of the Pyrex dish which contains the condensed milk
  4. Cover the Pyrex dish containing the condensed milk snugly with foil and bake for 1¼ hours. 
  5. Once the Dulce de Leche is nicely browned and caramelized, remove from the oven and let cool. Once cool, whisk until smooth. I do this with an electric whisk or Kitchen Aid, and place into jars immediately.


  1. Yum, these all look good! I especially want to try the Dulche de Leche, sounds like heaven in a jar!

  2. Thank you Jayne! It is so good! I'll try and bring you a jar on Friday x

  3. Ooh music to my ears!!

  4. Oh was that beautiful big chocolate cake taking pride of place on the table yours? Chocolate and chestnuts make such a good cake - or roulade. Mmmmm.