Christmas is a time for family and friends, for tradition and treats. But, let’s face it, when the pressure to feed and entertain builds up, the festive season…
Roast Stuffed Pumpkin with Gingery Tomato Sauce: There is something so magnificent about a whole pumpkin stuffed with jewelled rice, that it doesn’t really need too many side dishes to detract: its starchy interior means you can forgo potatoes or the orzotto; and the vibrant sauce precludes the need for a pile-up of condiments.
Chestnut Chocolate Pots: I'm almost embarrassed by how easy these are. It's true that you do need a processor, though you could just chop well and whisk using a lot of elbow grease. As an experiment, I also tried the chestnut pots as chestnut chocolate mousses: the mousses were more work and not as good; this - lazy - way provides a much more meltingly luscious texture.
Yule Log: A traditional French bûche de Noël always looks just the right side of cutely enchanting, and there is nothing hard to like about its tender, melting chocolatiness. But I warm to it most of all for the rich pagan symbolism: it is no less than a cake-emulation of the log that the Norsemen would drag home through the streets to burn in celebration of the winter solstice and to honour the gods and hope, thus, to cajole from them a good year to come.
Ultimate Christmas Pudding: I don’t deny it: there is something unattractively boastful about calling one’s own recipe “ultimate”. But having soaked my dried fruit for this pudding in Pedro Ximénez – the sweet, dark, sticky sherry that has a hint of liquorice, fig and treacle about it – I know there is no turning back. It’s not even as if it’s an extravagance: the rum or brandy I’ve used up till now are more expensive and do the trick less well. This is sensational.
Christmas Rocky Road: It’s not that I felt my usual Rocky Road Crunch Bars needed any improvement (though fiddling with recipes is one of life’s pleasures) but I thought they would benefit from some seasonal adjustment. So, out go the Rich Tea biscuits and in come amaretti and – in the seasonal spirit – I’ve crammed in some Brazil nuts and glacé cherries (as red as Rudolph’s nose), along with snowy mini marshmallows.
Spruced-Up Vanilla Cake: This is a sleight of hand, or a trick of equipment rather than an act of brilliance. True, the cake does look incredibly complicated and seasonally impressive as it comes to the table, but that is all down to the shape of the tin. It’s an expense to get a tin that can’t be used all year round, but it really is a beautifully Christmassy creation, and a doddle to make.
Star-Topped Mince Pies:This is the way I make my mince pies, and there is no changing me or them: they are small, to be popped straight into the mouth in one go; the pastry is plain, the better to contrast with the rich, fruited filling; and they have not full casings but little stars as lids, which makes them look beautiful and taste flutteringly light.
Christmas-Spiced Chocolate Cake: There are few more popular ways to end a dinner party than with a fallen chocolate cake – the cakes are so called because they are compact and flourless and, when cooling out of the oven, their rich centres drop and dip a little. It is into this dip, not so dramatic as to be called a crater, that you drop or scatter the sticky nut topping.
Chilli Jam: Although I call this chilli jam, I don't mean by this that it's the sort of thing you'd spread on your toast at breakfast (though smeared inside a bacon sandwich, it could be a real help one hungover morning) but rather a chilli jelly - chelly? - that glows a fiery, flecked red and is fabulous with cold meats or a cheese plate. And just a small pot of it makes a gorgeous present.
With her no-nonsense approach, her inspirational ideas and empathy for the practical realities of the season - combined here with reliable easy-to-follow recipes and reassuring advice about planning and cooking ahead - Nigella Christmas is guaranteed to bring comfort and joy and make sure the season of good will stays that way.