When I was growing up, Christmas was all about the food, and you knew exactly what food this would be, especially the puddings.
I remember every year with wonderful regularity the dining room table groaning and moaning under the weight of an array of glorious Victoriana, wobbly jellies, creams, and aspic things we never ate at any other time of the year … and which have since vanished along with the moa.
I am not really sure if I am a traditionalist, but it can be comforting to not have to think and instead always cook the same dish for the same occasion, knowing that it will be crowd pleasing. In this current climate of infinite choices and options for every decision, having traditions certainly helps make things easier, if even for a brief second, instead of being overwhelmed.
Somewhere in the time between when I was too small to help in the kitchen and now when I am very seldom out of one, things have changed. Traditions have given way to fashions and food trends, allergies and Masterchef. The pressure is on to come up with a dish or a menu that not only sums up Christmas, but caters for all of your extended friends’ and family’s different dietary requirements and expectations.
Certainly Jamie, Annabel or Nigella are very helpful, and they offer lots of advice in the magazines at this time of year on how to entertain with ease, but they don’t necessarily understand your particular situation. At the end of the day it is up to you to create food that is just the right balance of satisfying while not being too heavy, amazing without being over the top, potentially vegan without being mundane, and fulfilling with so much warmth and delight, that your friends and family will remember it until next Christmas.
One very good solution I think is to come up with your own new traditions, updated and made current. Maybe more Ottolenghi than Victoriana, more multicultural than the motherland, wherever that may be. And this way you can choose a dish or menu that is relevant to you and your family, and it can reflect not just what is in season, but how you all like to eat.
What would I cook?
Well for me Christmas is the day before my second son’s birthday, he was due on New Year’s Eve 2000 and he only lived for three months after that. And as each year gets closer to that birthday the air around me seems to get stiller and more refined. I find part of me wanting to slink off like a cat and wait it out in a cave until the new year, but that is not possible or sensible.
So instead let’s make a cake, the ultimate cake to celebrate his wonderful life and all the other wonderful lives of babies and mothers that we know and meet. And after all, how appropriate is that, a birthday cake for Christmas day.
And if cooking is not your thing, then as Noel Coward said: “Why do I drink Champagne for breakfast? Doesn’t everyone?”
Chocolate and Strawberry Frozen Roulade
175g dark chocolate, chopped roughly
6 organic eggs
175g caster sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
2 tablespoons icing sugar
500g vanilla ice cream
½ cup fresh strawberries, chopped into smallish pieces, or cherries if they are still around
1 tablespoon berry powder for dusting
Set oven to bake at 180C and line a non-stick sponge roll tin (23cm x 33cm) with baking paper.
Melt the chocolate gently in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally; it is important that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water because then the bowl will be too hot and the chocolate will split. Once melted, remove the bowl from the heat and let the chocolate cool for about 15 minutes or until it is still just a little bit warm.
Separate the eggs. In a beater whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then set the beaten egg whites aside in another bowl. Again in the beater, add the egg yolks and sugar, mixing them together for 3-4 minutes until thick and pale. Now pour the melted chocolate into the egg yolks and gently fold it in by hand.
Carefully fold two big spoonfuls of the chocolate mixture into the egg whites, and gently incorporate until they are almost mixed in; be sure not to over mix them and lose all of the air you have just whisked in. Next do the same with the remainder of the chocolate mix.
Then sift the cocoa over the mixture and fold this in.
Pour the mix into the lined tin, gently tilting the tin back and forth so the mix goes evenly into the corners. Bake in the oven for 20- 25 minutes, until it has risen and when you poke it with a knife it comes out clean. Have a tea towel laid out ready on the bench, dusted generously with icing sugar. Turn the cake out onto this straight from the oven, carefully peeling the paper off the underside. Roll it up from the long edge and then leave it to cool, rolled up with the towel.
Put the ice cream into a bowl and let it soften enough so you can beat it with a spoon, and mix it into a smooth texture like whipped cream. Fold in the berries. Now working quickly so the ice cream does not melt, gently unroll the cake and spread the ice cream over the cake leaving about 2cm around the edge. Now roll the roulade and filling into shape, peeling off the towel as you go. Leave the end of the tea towel tucked underneath and use it to wrap up the finished roulade, twisting the towel edges to keep the whole thing secure.
Now lift the roulade onto a tray and put it into the freezer. Yes it’s a little odd putting a cake in the freezer, but trust me it likes it, it gets a lovely sticky texture.
When you are ready to eat the roulade, take it out of the freezer about 5 minutes before to let it soften. Then put it on your best serving dish and shake icing sugar, berry dust or cocoa over it. You could also serve it with chocolate ganache and whipped cream. After all it’s Christmas!