Christmas is coming...

And the goose is getting fat!  While I no longer cook my own goose, I still do lots of other Christmas specials...


This is a family favourite, and I cannot get away without making at least 4 every year! There's something about the marzipan having been cooked that improves it no end! This can also be made ahead of time then frozen. You can decorate it before you freeze it, but it looks tidier if you do it after de-frosting!

375g/12oz strong white bread flour
1ml/ level teaspoon salt
10ml/2 level teaspoons easy blend yeast
150ml/ pint milk
75g/3oz softened butter
50g/2oz caster sugar
1 medium sized egg
50g/2oz currants
50g/2oz raisins
125g/4oz sultanas
25g/1oz mixed peel
25g/1oz glace cherries, rinsed, dried and quartered
25g/1oz chopped walnuts
175g/ 6oz marzipan
125g/4oz icing sugar
25ml/1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

To decorate: 
Sundara candied peel or mixed candied fruit

Sift the flour and the salt into a bowl and place it in a warm oven for 10 minutes to warm slightly, then stir in the yeast and mix well.

Warm the milk and butter together, add the caster sugar, stir to dissolve, whisk the egg into the liquid, check it is not too warm then pour it onto the flour.

Mix until the mixture leaves the sides of the bowl cleanly. Now add the fruits, cherries and walnuts.

Turn the dough out onto a board and knead it for 4-5 minutes until the fruits are evenly distributed. Return it to the bowl, cover with cling film and leave it in a warm place until doubled in size.

When it is ready turn it out onto the board once more and knead for another minute then lightly roll it into an oblong about 35 x 20 cm (14 x 8 inches)

Roll the marzipan into a sausage shape approximately 32 cm (13 inches) long and lay it in the middle of the dough, then roll the dough around it, squeeze the ends to neaten the shape and place it on a lightly oiled baking sheet until it has doubled in size.

Lay a damp tea cloth over the dough to prevent it forming a skin and when it is well risen bake it in a preheated oven 190C, 375F, gas mark 5 for 35 minutes.

Allow it to cool on the baking sheet for minutes before lifting onto a cooling rack. Meanwhile make the icing by sifting the sugar into a bowl and mix with just enough lemon juice to form a stiff icing. Spread this along the top of the stollen while it is still warm. Decorate with candied peel or mixed candied fruit.

This recipe freezes well.


Marzipan is wonderful stuff, and has been around a long time, and is used for all sorts of different things, from smoothing out a wonky cake for decoration to Elizabethan and Mediaeval sweetmeats and subtleties. You can mould it like Playdough, eat it like there's no tomorrow, and nice home made marzipan makes that nasty stuff you buy in shops look like a pallid, washed out copy!

This quantity will cover an 8" Christmas cake over the top and sides.

175 g/6 oz icing sugar
175 g/6 oz caster sugar
350 g/12 oz ground almonds
1/2 lemon, juice only
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla extract

Sieve the icing sugar into a large mixing bowl, and add the caster sugar and the ground almonds. |Mix them all together making sure there are no lump or clumps of ground almonds.

Mix together the egg, lemon juice and vanilla extract, and add to the almonds and sugar. Mix them in with a fork. It should make a stiff paste, similar in colour and consistency to short crust pastry. Kneed it on a board lightly dusted with caster sugar, but be careful not to over handle it - the warmth of your hands will make the oils run out of the ground almonds and make the past greasy and hard to handle. If it gets a little sticky, add a little more sugar. If it's too dry, add a little more lemon juice.

Use to cover a cake or shape into sweetmeats. Leave to dry for 3 - 7 days before either covering a cake with royal icing/chocolate, or decorating if made into sweetmeats.

Almond paste or marzipan can also be used in stollen (see above) or as a stuffing for dates.



There are a number of traditions surrounding the making of small sweet spiced pies for Christmas, and a huge variation in their fillings. A couple of the best Mincemeat recipes I've come across follow.

Originally Mincemeat was a way of preserving fresh meat for the depths of winter, using best quality steak or ox tongue, and the modern meatless recipe dates from the middle of the 1700's, when the meat filed version was starting to die out. I usually make mine during August or September, but October will do just fine. Tradition dictates that the mince pies are made as small individual pies, about the size of fairy cakes. I like to use a rich short crust pastry for them, but you can use whatever pastry you like. The modern recipe ones go really well hot with home made vanilla ice cream, clotted cream, brandy butter, hard sauce, or real custard, and cold as an accompaniment to a cup of tea. The ancient recipe ones go best with a wassail mug...

Recipe One: Mincemeat ('modern').

This recipe makes 7 lbs of mincemeat. (NB: Use either imperial or metric measures, not a mixture of each!)

450 g1 lb stoned or seedless raisins
450 g/1 lb sultanas
450 g/1 lb currants
100 g/4 oz blanched slivered almonds
175 g/6 oz chopped candied peel
450 g/1 lb firm tart apples (cooking apples - Bramley Seedlings!)
350 g/12 oz Atora prepared beef suet or vegetable suet
450 g/1 lb Muscavado sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 lemon: zest and juice
2 liqueur glasses brandy

Wash and dry the fruit. Mince or chop the raisins and sultanas (I use the food processor - just be careful not to reduce them to sludge!)

Peel, core and grate the apples.

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl, cover with a cloth, and leave to soak over night.

Pack closely into clean jars, eliminating all air pockets, and fix the lids. Keep in a cool dark place until required. Make sure you don't fill the jars too full! I use Kilner jars - those big preserving jars with the clamp lids. Only fill to the fill line, or the stuff escapes...

This stuff needs to be made a couple of months before Christmas to have time to mature. It keeps just about forever! I recently discovered a jar that had been shoved to the back of the cupboard... It's at least ten years old, and the mincemeat is in perfect condition!

Recipe Two: Mincemeat ('ancient')

The proportions of fruit in this recipe are a bit different, but it works nicely. I make no guarantees about keeping times, but it should keep well. Again, make it at least two weeks before you want to use it. This one makes about 8 1/2 lbs.

1 lb/400 g seedless raisins
1 1/2 lbs/600 g currants
12 oz/300 g lean rump or fillet steak, finely minced (trim off any fat before weighing)
1 1/2 lbs/600 g finely minced beef suet (Atora prepared beef suet can be used here)
1 lb/400 g Muscavado sugar
4 oz/100 g chopped mixed peel
1/2 Nutmeg, grated
2 lbs/800 g cooking apples, peeled, cored and grated
1 lemon: zest and juice
1/4 pint (5 fl oz - UK pints here, folks!)/125 ml brandy

Thoroughly mix all the ingredients together in the order of the list. Stir in the lemon juice and brandy. Again, leave covered over night (in the fridge!) to soak, and then pack closely into jars, eliminating all air pockets. Hide in a cool dark place - it shouldn't need to be the fridge, unless you live somewhere hot. Leave at least two weeks before using.

Wassail Cup

This one is for Twelfth Night! 

4 oz/100 g sugar
3 cinnamon sticks (Don't break them up unless you want to be picking cinnamon twigs out of your drink!)
1 pint/ 20 fl oz/ 250 ml apple juice
3 lemons, zest and juice
5 fl oz/125 ml dry sherry
3 pints/60 fl oz/1.5 l ale
1 lemon, thinly sliced

Simmer the apple juice, lemon juice and zest, cinnamon and sugar together until all the sugar is dissolved. Add the ale and sherry, and lemon slices and heat WITHOUT boiling

Serve in heat-proof mugs! Watch out for falling bodies... Goes well with the ancient recipe mince pies!

Eat! Drink! And be merry! For tomorrow we diet...


I was shown how to do this as a student, when my parents were stationed in Germany with the RAF. Later, when I got married, some friends we'd known round the RAF for a while, and who'd been in Germany with us, gave me a proper rumtopf pot as a wedding gift. I broke the lid, and had to replace the whole pot as I couldn't get one the right size. .Later, I managed to do so, and now I have two! The family tell me two is not enough!

Some sugar
a large stone wear rumtopf pot or glass jar with a lid (about a gallon is usually big enough!)
a bottle or two of dark rum

You need to start this in about June, when all the soft fruit is just coming in.

Good fruit to use are:
red and black currants
plums (stoned and cut smaller) or damsons
apples (washed and sliced)
pears (peeled and sliced - don't like pear skin as it goes tough!)
a little orange, washed and sliced
halved grapes

I usually start mine with:
  a punet of strawberries
  2 punets of raspberries
  a punet of red currants

Things that are not recommended:
Kiwi fruit
too much orange!
orange segment that have not been peeled of the segment membrane
cooked (canned) fruit.
Frozen fruit
Gooseberries (they go like leather!)

If the fruit is very sweet, add a bit less sugar.

Wash, hull, and pick over the fruit. Big strawberries will need to be cut: aim to have everything about the size of the raspberries, except for the currants. Leave to drain well. Weigh your fruit and weigh out 3/4 of this weight in sugar. Put the sugar and the fruit into the rumtopf pot or jar. Cover with rum. Give it a gentle stir. Place a plate or something over the fruit to weight it down, so all the fruit is submerged, and cover with the lid. Leave in a cool dark place.

As the different fruits come into season, add them to the pot, adding the sugar at the same time. Top up the rum - the fruit should never be exposed to the air. By the end of September I'm adding brambles and apple, and pears.

The red fruits give this a gloriously Christmassy look! Put the last fruits in about the end of October, and store away in the dark for Christmas. It makes wonderful presents if you bottle it up in nice fancy jars. Eat it with home made Vanilla Ice cream, those rolled Swiss chocolate wafers, and watch how much you give the children! I had a bunch go all giggly on me one year...


Kentish Hog

This is another similar thing that used to be made here in Kent with the smuggled brandy the region was so famous for in the 18th Century! It and uses orchard fruit. I made it one year and it too was very good. You do it in exactly the same way as the rumtopf, but use only:

plums or damsons
a little quince if you can get it.

Have fun experimenting!

The Famous Chocolate Christmas Cake!

This is a recipe I found quite a few years ago in a copy of the Radio Times Magazine. It was part of a Tesco's supermarket Christmas ad feature, but it looked so good I tried it, and tasted so good I kept it! My thanks to Tesco and Radio Times for hunting up the recipe for me when I lost it, and for allowing me to publish it now. I made this originally in 1994, I see from the date on the corner of the page! I have made it every year since - so the recipe is as old as my son! It's one of his favourite cakes, and he helps to make it, make the marzipan, and decorate the cakes every year. I think he was about three when he first started helping.

Christmas Luxury Fruit Ring

For the cake:

10"./25cm ring baking tin*
3 lbs/1.5kg Tesco Luxury Dried Mixed Fruit
grated zest if 3 oranges
10 fl oz/280ml freshly squeezed orange juice
5 fl oz/175ml Grand Marnier liqueur
5 medium eggs
3 oz/75g light Muscovado sugar
4 oz/100g plain flour sifted with 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
11 oz/300g Tesco Luxury Plain Chocolate for Baking** , 8 oz/225g chopped and 3 oz/75g melted
7 oz/200g whole glace cherries
7 oz/200g walnut pieces
4 oz/100g toasted flaked almonds
4 oz/100g ground almonds

To Decorate:

2 lbs/1kg white almond paste***
4 tablespoons apricot jam
11 0z/300g Tesco plain Chocolate Cake Covering**
1 lb/500g golden almond paste***


Soak the dried fruit and zest with the orange juice and liqueur over night.

Pre-heat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas 2

Whisk the eggs and sugar together until frothy, then fold in the flour mixture. Combine all the remaining cake ingredients and fold into the egg mixture.

Grease and lightly flour a 10" ring baking tin (preferably a spring form tin). Spoon the cake mix into the tin, pressing it down and smoothing the top. Bake in a pre-heated oven for 2 1/2 hours, covering the top of the cake with greaseproof paper half way through cooking. Cool in the tin. Turn out onto a board.

Roll out the white marzipan 1/4" thick. Cut strips long enough and wide enough to cover the inner and outer sides of the ring. Re-roll the marzipan, and using the tin as a template, cut a ring to fit the top of the cake. Save any off-cuts for cutting holly shapes for decorating. Melt the jam in a saucepan and brush over the cake surface. Cover the cake with marzipan, smoothing over the joins.

Melt the cake covering according to the packet instructions. Spread over the top and sides of the cake, saving a little for decoration. Decorate with white and gold marzipan holly leaves and berries, stuck on with melted chocolate.

Store in an airtight container.


*This quantity is huge! The first time I made it, it filled my 10" savarin tin and left enough over for an 8" round solid tin! I usually do a double quantity, and make four 7" cakes and two 6" ones, which go out to various members of the family.

**I usually buy Belgian high quality chocolate for this as it is easy for me to get by the kilo at a good price. I use this instead of the cake covering as well, as it is so much nicer!

***I usually make my own marzipan (recipe above). You can make it white and golden by separating the eggs and using the whites for one batch and the yolks for another. I have to admit that I don't bother! I just make it one way, and decorate the tops of the cakes with a little white chocolate to make a snowflake pattern, like the picture below. I only ever cover the top, and use a good thick layer of marzipan and chocolate. This cake will keep well for up to a year.


Kate's Triple Vanilla French Style Ice Cream

Here's my twist on a classic!

1/2 pint (10 fl oz - we're in the UK here, folks!) single/pouring cream
4 egg yolks
4 oz Vanilla sugar*
1 teaspoon vanilla extract**
1/4 vanilla pod, ground***
small pinch of salt

1/2 pint (as above) double/whipping cream

Double boiler

Bring the water in the double boiler to the simmer, with the single
cream in it.

Beat the egg yolks, the vanilla sugar, vanilla extract, ground
vanilla, and salt together. Pour the hot cream into it, stirring all
the time, and return to the double boiler. Bring back up to heat, and
keep stirring for a few minutes while it cooks and thickens. Cover with
a circle of greaseproof paper pressed down onto the custard to prevent a
skin forming, and leave to cool. The ground vanilla pod gives those wee
black flecks you see in the best ice creams in France.

When the custard is cool, whip the double cream until stiff, and then combine
thoroughly with the custard. Put it into a plastic bowl, and freeze. 
When half frozen, whisk quickly until smooth, then return to the freezer
to complete freezing. You only need to stir it the once during
freezing. It makes a very hard ice cream. It keeps well for several


*I make my own by putting a couple of vanilla pods in a large jar with a
covering of caster sugar. It takes several weeks, and you need to shake
the jar every week for the first 3, to distribute the flavour. I tend
to use white sugar so I can use it in anything, but you can use golden
caster sugar if you prefer.
**I use Neilson-Massey's Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract - the best
I've found. In the UK you can get it from Lakeland Limited.
***I use 4 whole vanilla pods, chopped into half inch bits, and grind
them up in a coffee grinder kept for spices. Ground vanilla keeps quite
a while, but don't mistake it for pepper! You'll get some funny

I adore vanilla, and this has a really intense flavour. It goes really
well with strawberries in the summer, Rumtopf in the winter, makes the
best ever base for Peach Melba and Poire Helene, and is brilliant frozen
into lollies and then dipped in melted Belgian chocolate...


Chicken Liver and Almond pate

By now you should have guessed that I'm a lover of almonds! Here's another excuse for using them! 

This is a little milder in liver flavour than lots of pate's and very good served as a starter as part of a 'cold collation' for a family get-together.

4 oz/100g butter
1 small onion or two decent sizes shallots, dices fine
8 oz/200 g chicken livers
1 rounded teaspoon mild French mustard (Dijon is ideal)
1 level teaspoon ground nutmeg
salt & pepper to taste
2 tablespoons/30 ml brandy
Juice of half an orange
2 tablespoons/30 mil cream
1 oz chopped blanched almonds
1 teaspoon fresh chives

Melt 1 oz/25g butter in a frying pan and gently 'melt' the onion until soft. Add the chicken livers and cook gently, stirring once or twice, for five minutes.

Add the mustard and nutmeg, a further 2 oz/50 g of butter, salt and pepper. When the butter has melted, remove from the heat and add the orange juice, brandy and cream.

Whiz in a liquidizer until you have a very smooth thin paste. Stir in by hand the chopped almonds and all but a sprinkling of the chives.

Transfer into an earthenware dish - a small casserole is ideal - and sprinkle over the remaining chives.

Gently bubble the remaining butter and pour over the pate. Chill in the fridge.

I've given this pate as presents, served in ramekin dishes. You can fill about 4 with this amount. It keeps well for about a week if you don't break the butter seal, but if you want to keep it longer, it's a good one to freeze.
Cranberry Sauce

This is my own recipe, worked out after discovering that I didn't like the vaguely cranberry flavoured jams usually given this name, and wasn't prepared to spend real cash for something decent that was so easy to make!

2 lbs cranberries
2 lbs sugar
juice and zest of two large oranges
a large glass of red wine

Another glass of wine for the cook!


Place all the ingredients in a large saucepan together, and put over a low flame. Stir gently now and again until all the sugar has dissolved and you can no longer feel crunchy bits with the spoon. Turn the heat up and bring through the boil. Turn down and simmer gently without a lid, for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, sterilize your jars: put them in the oven, set at just over 100 C for 15 minutes. This means that they are both sterile and hot, so won't shatter when the hot sauce hits them.

When done, bottle your sauce. Fix the lids while still very hot. This will seal it while sterile and will help to preserve it. I like to use clamp topped Kilner or Le Parfait jars. They look good when you give the sauce out as part of a home-made Christmas Hamper.

Cranberry sauce made like this will keep for years, but once opened needs to be stored in the fridge.

Christmas pudding

This is the only one my mother in law would eat, so I HAVE to make it every year. My son is also an avid fan.

This quantity makes a 3 lb pudding - enough for 8 hungry folk!

4 oz self raising flour
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 oz shredded beef suet or vegetable suet
4 oz fresh whole meal breadcrumbs
4 oz Muscavado sugar
2 oz ground almonds
4 oz seedless raisins 
8 oz sultanas
8 oz big raisins (I like Lexia raisins - the big juicy ones)
2 oz chopped mixed peel
zest of a large orange
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon treacle
4-5 tablespoons of dark ale
2 tablespoons brandy... ...and more for later...

Start the day before you want to mix it together - two days before boiling! Wash all the dried fruit, and set aside to dry off. I usually spread it out on a tea towel on an oven shelf, and leave it in the oven with the fan blowing and no heat. Someone I used to know spread it out on an old tray and left it to dry in the airing cupboard! Either is good!
Mix all your dry ingredients in a large bowl, combining well to ensure an even mix. Add the eggs, treacle and brandy, and enough ale to gain a medium-soft consistency.

Cover with a cloth an set aside over night. Then put it into a large (1.5 lt/3 pint) greased pudding basin, and either fix the lid (plastic basin) or tie over some greaseproof paper with a pleat in the top to allow for rising.

Steam the pudding for 5 hours, topping up the water in the steamer if needed. The pan should never boil dry.

Allow the pudding to cool completely in the basin and then remove the lid. Pour over the pudding another 2 or 3 tablespoons of brandy, and fix a clean lid. DO NOT seal the pudding in an airtight container, or it will develop mould. Store in a dry airy dark place to mature for Christmas. 3 weeks is about the minimum, six months is good!

On Christmas day, take the lid off and add another tablespoon of brandy, replace the lid, then steam for a further 2 hours. Serve with whipped cream, brandy butter, or hard sauce. If you must have custard with it, at least make the real thing!

Back To Table of Contents