Christmas Cookbook Reviews

I’ve already admitted to a bad cookbook habit so it won’t come as a great surprise I have several Christmas cookbooks. I thought I’d review my three general Christmas cookbooks.

  1. Delia Smith’s Christmas
    Delia Smith Christmas
    Delia Smith’s Christmas is my oldest and most well thumbed Christmas cook book. It was the book I used every year to get turkey cooking times and after an unsuccessful attempt with classic mincemeat that went off I subsequently always used Delia’s method of melting the suet. The red cabbage recipe is a classic and whilst I’ve never used Delia’s countdown religiously it has always been useful guidance.
    In the past I’ve made the roasted red peppers stuffed with fennel which was good and I make the mushroom risotto from this book regularly. I made her venison casserole this year and will be making that again. There are still many recipes in this book that I’ve never tried. I have often thought I must try her Irish coffee pudding so this time I really will make a note to make it soon.
    It contains all the information you might need for successful food at Christmas. Recipes as well as lists, timings and advice. She includes several interesting vegetarian options for Christmas dinner. Justifiably a classic, some recipes may look almost retro but all look good.

    The book is spit up into the following chapters:
    Introduction
    Lists and More Lists
    All kinds of Christmas Cakes
    Talking Turkey…and Geese and Hams
    Christmas Puddings and Mincemeat
    Preserves, Pickles and Chutneys
    Christmas on Ice
    Canapes and Nibbles
    A Party Selection
    A Vegetarian Christmas
    Ducks, Geese and Game
    Roasted Meats and Cold Cuts
    Winter Vegetable Dishes and Salads
    Christmas Desserts and Sweet Dishes
    Homemade Sweets and Chocolates
    The Last 36 Hours
    Supper Dishes and Left-overs
    Mail Order and Home Delivery Suppliers (curiously old fashioned these days)
    More About Turkeys

  2. Nigella Christmas
    Nigella Christmas

    I like the Nigella Christmas cookbook, it conveys her love of entertaining combined with a ‘don’t stress it’ approach. Although even with my tendency to feed anyone who comes through the door I found the idea of a ‘Welcome table’ groaning with food just to greet anyone who turned up odd. One of my criticisms with this book is its footprint. It is too big to hold easily (in my opinion large format cook books only work if they are slim enough not to be too heavy). A number of the recipes in this book have appeared in previous Nigella cookbooks and it  contains at least one spectacular failure – I tried her gingerbread stuffing the Christmas after I got this book and threw it away after one taste. Aidan  made her yule log which was nice but nothing spectacular.
    That said I make her spruced up vanilla cake from this book several times each year, it’s a very easy cake to make before visiting family and friends and is always well received as it looks special and tastes nice. Browsing through the book for this review I noticed she includes some nice ideas for winter dinner party meals that are not christmassy so I’ll try a couple more recipes before I put this book away for the year.

    The book is organised as follows:
    The More the Merrier Cocktails, Canapes and Manageable Mass Catering
    Seasonal Support Soups, Salads, Sauces and Serve-later sides
    Come On Over…Stress free suppers
    The Main Event
    Joy to the World Christmas Baking and Sweet Treats
    All Wrapped Up Edible Presents and Party Preserves
    A Christmas Brunch for 6-8
    A Bevy of Hot Drinks
    Dr Lawson Prescribes…

  3. Sarah Raven’s Complete Christmas
  1. Sarah Raven Complete Christmas

Sarah Raven’s Complete Christmas is the most inspirational book, with stunning photographs. Sarah’s planning for Christmas includes flowers and starts in September! It is the sort of book which makes you wish you had a large well stocked garden and lots of free autumn weekends to potter around since at least half of the book is floral and foliage decorations for christmas and there are a number of edible gift recipes. Although the recipes look lovely I’ve only made the christmas pudding ice cream so far which was delicious. I suspect if I didn’t already have Delia’s book this would be my guide to making Christmas dinner as it is thorough without being over complicated. This book is split into the following sections:

Planning Ahead which includes forcing bulbs for Christmas as well as homemade chutneys.
Decorations which includes ideas for decorating your Christmas tree and making wreaths
A Christmas Party which has more flowers and lots of canape recipes
Christmas Eve Recipes from breakfast through light lunch to 3 course dinner
Christmas Day How to do all the essentials including roast goose with interesting ideas and variants for basics such as stuffings
Boxing Day Lots of interesting ideas for using up leftovers
New Year’s Eve with winter dinner party recipes

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Number Birthday Cake

Number 5 smarties cake

This isn’t really a specific recipe as I use a standard 4 egg victoria sponge recipe. I started making number cakes when my boys were very young. Initially I hired the tins but the combination of a full time job and young children made it difficult to get the tins back on time so I started to buy the numbers as I needed them. Children love these cakes, especially when they are allowed to decorate them with sweets. I usually do chocolate with chocolate fudge icing as shown above but white icing and dolly mixtures also work well. The cakes are also popular  with adults for significant birthdays. I made a ‘2’ and a ‘1’ for one of my nephews using chocolate fudge icing that I got as smooth as possible then dusted with gold dusting powder. I also made a ‘7’ and a ‘0’ for my sisters father in law with one number as a chocolate cake and the other vanilla sponge. The number ‘5’ above is for my youngest niece. As a busy mum one of the things I liked about using these tins is I didn’t need to spend too much time getting icing perfect.

The most time consuming/fiddly part is lining the tin!

Ingredients for Victoria Sponge

  • 225g unsalted butter, very soft
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • 200g self-raising flour (if making chocolate substitute 4-6 tbsps flour for cocoa powder)
  • 25g cornflour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder (if using processor method)
  • 3-4 tablespoons milk

Instructions for Victoria Sponge

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C / gas mark 4.
  2. To make this basic sponge cake in the food processor: put all the ingredients except the milk in the food processor and process till you’ve got a smooth batter. Then pulse, pouring the milk gradually through the funnel till your cake mixture’s a soft, drooping consistency.

Chocolate Fudge Icing

I’ve put the quantities for Delia’s chocolate fudge icing from her Delia’s Complete Cookery Course below, I usually make double for a number cake but have plenty left over, I could probably get away with 1.5 times.

Ingredients for Chocolate fudge icing

  • 75g granulated sugar
  • 75ml evaporated milk
  • 100g dessert chocolate
  • 40g butter
  • 2 drops vanilla essence

Instructions for Chocolate Fudge icing

  1. To do this, combine the sugar and evaporated milk in a heavy saucepan. Heat gently to dissolve the sugar, stirring frequently. When the sugar has dissolved and the mixture comes to the boil, keep the heat very low and simmer for 6 minutes without stirring.
  2. Remove the pan from the heat and, using a small balloon whisk, whisk in the chocolate, followed by the butter and vanilla extract.
  3. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and, when it is cool, cover it with clingfilm and chill for about an hour to allow the mixture to thicken.
  4. Then beat again, and spread on sponge. Covering a number cake takes a while and you need to be careful to make sure all edges are covered as it’s easy to miss some.

Number 5 cake tin

  1. The first thing you notice about the tin is that it is open both sides so you need to place it on a baking tray to bake the cake. You need to start by greasing and lining the baking tray.
  2. Then cut a piece of baking parchment or greaseproof paper the size of the frame allowing at least a 2-3cm border all round.
  3. Cut strips of baking parchment or greaseproof paper wide enough to line the inside of the frame.  You don’t need to do one long strip, you can do several which makes it easier to position them. Place the frame, making sure the number is reversed, on the paper and trace round the inside of the frame.
  4. Draw your cutting line around the tracing allowing at lease 2cm all the way round.
  5. Cut out carefully and then snip the border at about 2cm intervals from the outside edge to the tracing line.  Where the shape changes direction make sure that you cut into the angle.
  6. Fold in the flaps. Where there is a curve it may be necessary to add a few snips.
  7. Grease  the number frame and position it with the number reversed.
  8. Ease the tracing into the frame pressing the paper onto the greased surface of the baking sheet and the flaps onto the greased side of the frame.
  9. Press the paper strips onto the greased side of the frame, overlapping where necessary and using a little more butter to stick the overlaps.
  10. The frame is now ready to be filled with cake mixture. There is a little bit of a knack to filling the frame. It is less obvious on this tin but the cake mixture rises more in the middle of the wider parts of the tin so I dip the mixture a little in the middle with a slightly deeper dip the wider the tin.