PEAR, WALNUT AND MARZIPAN CRUMBLE TART

A traditional crumble is sheer bliss, and whenever
my mum makes one I am completely silent as I devour it. The comforting and calming nature of the humble crumble is the inspiration for this tart. That, and the necessary grandeur of a show-stopping dessert at Christmas.  

Ingredients - serves 8

  • 300g sweet shortcrust pastry
  • 1kg pears, peeled, cored and cut into 1cm dice
  • 250g light brown muscovado sugar
  • 150g walnuts, chopped 
  • 1 tbsp brandy
  • 100g marzipan

For the crumble topping

  • 100g plain flour 
  • 75g light brown muscovado sugar 
  • 75g salted butter

Essential equipment

  • 23cm/9-inch loose- bottomed flan tin 

Method

Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/Gas 4.  Roll out the pastry and use it to line the tin, leaving any excess hanging over the edge. Chill in the fridge until needed.

Place the diced pear in a saucepan with the sugar and set over a medium-high heat. Stew for 20 minutes, stirring, until the pears are mushy but intact and the sauce is thick. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Once the pears have cooled, add the walnuts and brandy, and grate the marzipan in. Mix well so that everything is evenly distributed. Using a slotted spoon, pile the filling into the pastry case – let the excess moisture drip away as you don’t want too much liquid in the tart or the base of the pastry will go soggy, but do save the syrup as it is so fab in christmassy cocktails. Bake the tart for 30 minutes. While it is baking, make the topping.

Mix the flour and sugar together in a mixing bowl. Cut the butter into cubes and rub this roughly into the flour, so that there are clumpy bits of crumble. Take the tart out of the oven when 30 minutes are up, sprinkle with the topping, and return to the oven for a further 20 minutes. Allow to cool and set before serving.  

SELF-SAUCING CHOCOLATE MUD PUD

This is an insanely dense, saucy and chocolaty pudding - what more could anyone ask for during the festive period when expanding waistlines are a sign of a well-celebrated Christmas? 

Ingredients - serves 6-8

  • 250g plump raisins 
  • 350ml boiling water
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda 
  • 60g salted butter, at room temperature 
  • 250g dark brown muscovado sugar 
  • Seeds from 1 vanilla pod, or 1 tsp vanilla paste or extract 
  • 2 large eggs
  • 260g plain flour 
  • 50g cocoa powder

For the self-saucing sauce

  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder 
  • 75g dark brown muscovado sugar 
  • 300ml boiling water 
  • 50g nutella 

Essential equipment

  • Deep 23cm/9-inch square ceramic pudding dish or cake tin, greased 

Method

Chop the raisins as finely as you can, and place them in the boiling water with the bicarbonate of soda. Allow to soak for 30 minutes.

Cream the butter with the sugar until paler in colour and lighter in texture (a freestanding mixer or an electric whisk is useful for this), then add the vanilla and the eggs. Beat together vigorously until everything is well combined, then add the raisins and their soaking water. Sift together the flour and the cocoa powder, and fold this into the batter.

Alternatively, if you have a food processor, simply soak the raisins as in step 1, then throw everything into the food processor and blitz into a chocolaty batter.

Pour into the greased dish, cover with cling film and place in the fridge to firm up for at least 2 hours. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas 4.

For the sauce, mix the cocoa powder and muscovado sugar together and sprinkle evenly over the pudding. Mix the boiling water and chocolate hazelnut spread together until well combined – best done with a whisk in a mixing bowl – and then gently pour on top of the pudding. Immediately place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the pudding is spongy and has risen slightly. Serve warm with lashings of cream or ice cream. 

CARAMELISED ONION AND ROSEMARY FOUGASSE

This is simply beautiful. I could eat, and have eaten, a whole batch of these as soon as they come steaming out of the oven. The amount of rosemary you put in is entirely up to you. You might even prefer to use a different herb; thyme or parsley would work a treat here. But whatever herb you choose, a batch of these with the Christmas cheeseboard brings joy to all. 

Ingredients - makes 4 

  • 1 red onion
  • Knob of salted butter
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 500g white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 10g salt
  • 7g fast-action yeast (1 sachet)
  • 2–3 sprigs of rosemary, finely chopped (or herb of your choice)
  • 350ml tepid water

Essential equipment

  • Dough scraper
  • 4 baking sheets
  • Spray bottle filled with water

Peel and finely slice the onion. Melt the butter in a frying pan over a high heat, then add the onion. Immediately turn the heat down to low-medium and cover the pan with a lid. Allow the onion to cook gently for 15 minutes, then add the vinegar and sugar and cook for a further 5 minutes on a low heat, this time uncovered. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.

To make the dough, place the flour in a mixing bowl and stir the salt through it. Then stir in the yeast and chopped rosemary. Add the water in thirds, and bring the dough together into a sticky mass.

Tip the contents of the bowl out on to the counter top and knead for about 10 minutes. Then incorporate the onions, kneading for a few more minutes until they are evenly distributed and the dough is smooth and elastic. Place in a clean, floured bowl. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave to rise for 1 hour or until the dough has doubled in size.

Dust 2 of the baking sheets liberally with wholemeal bread flour, and dust your counter top, too. Gently tip the risen dough out on to the counter, using a dough scraper to help remove it from the bowl. When the mound of dough is on the counter, cut it into quarters using a sharp knife or dough scraper. You should then have 4 portions of dough, shaped like rounded triangles or leaves.

Take one portion of dough and, using the thin edge of the dough scraper, cut a line in the middle from the tip of the triangle to the flat edge. You are cutting right through the depth of the dough, but not to each end, because you do not want to cut the dough in half: there needs to be 2cm dough uncut at either end of the line. This line will be like a centre vein on a leaf. Then, on either side of that line, at a 45 degree angle, cut three little ‘veins’ in the same way. Stretch the dough slightly so the holes open up. Repeat with the other 3 pieces of dough. Place 2 leaves on each well-floured baking sheet. Allow to prove for 30 minutes more.

Preheat the oven to 230°C/Gas 8. Place the other 2 baking sheets in to heat up.

Slide the breads on their baking sheets directly on to the hot sheets in the oven, spraying a mist of water inside before you shut the door. Bake for 12–15 minutes. 

WAFFLE AND WHISKY PUDDING

This even more indulgent version of a bread and butter pudding is simply divine. The flavour is mildly sweet from the syrup and white chocolate, whilst delivering a certain wintery warmth from the whisky and ginger. I think my favourite thing about it, apart from its taste of course, is how it looks like an abstract mountain range, with each peak gently dusted in an icing sugar snow. 

Ingredients - serves 8 

  • 12 (approx.) rectangular waffles
  • 60g white chocolate chips
  • 40g stem ginger from a jar, chopped
  • 300ml double cream
  • 300ml whole milk
  • Zest of 2 oranges
  • 150g golden syrup
  • 3 large eggs
  • 60ml whisky
  • 1tbsp caster sugar
  • Icing sugar to dust

Essential Equipment

  • Medium roasting tray, well greased

Method

Slice the waffles in half diagonally and arrange them in the tray. I arrange them two slices side by side, overlapping slightly, with the right angles pointing upwards. In between each layer of waffle sprinkle a few chocolate chips and pieces of ginger.

For the custard, place the cream, milk, orange zest and golden syrup into a saucepan and heat on medium until the mixture beings to simmer. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs in a heatproof bowl then slowly pour the cream mixture over the eggs, whilst whisking to avoid scrambling the eggs. Once well mixed, stir in the whisky then pour over the waffles. Allow to soak for a good 2 hours in the fridge.

Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/gas mark 6, and remove the soaked waffles from the fridge. Once the oven is hot, sprinkle the caster sugar over the pudding, and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown and slightly wobbly. Allow to cool completely before dusting with icing sugar. 

PEANUT BUTTER MARBLE TART

As though we should ever need an excuse to indulge, but Christmas truly is a time of unashamed indulgence. This tart is the epitome of that and is perfect for a ‘drinks and nibbles’ party (a fatty night as my friends and I call them). If you’re really well organised, and can resist the undying temptation to scoff, this tart will freeze beautifully if well wrapped in cling. Just defrost overnight in the fridge and get ready to be fulfilled, and then some. 

Ingredients - serves 12

For the Base

  • 400g bourbon biscuits
  • 75g smooth sweet peanut butter (Sunpat is best)

For the Chocolate Filling

  • 250g milk chocolate, chopped
  • 250g dark chocolate, chopped
  • 500ml double cream
  • 100g smooth sweet peanut butter (Sunpat is best)

For the Peanut Butter Marble

  • 50g smooth sweet peanut butter (Sunpat is best)
  • 25g white chocolate, chopped
  • 25g double cream

Essential Equipment

  • 23-25cm loose bottomed flan tin, greased with the base lined

Method

For the biscuit base, place the bourbon biscuits into a food processor fitted with blade along with the peanut butter. Blitz to form a fine, damp sand consistency. Tip into the prepared flan tin, and press it tightly onto the base and up the sides, until it evenly lines the entire tin. Chill in the fridge until needed.

For the chocolate filling place the chocolates, cream and peanut butter into a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of barely simmering water. Stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, allow the ingredients to melt together into a smooth and glossy ganache.

For the peanut butter marble mixture, put the peanut butter, white chocolate and double cream into a small bowl and set over a pan of hot water. Stirring constantly mix the ingredients together until they form a smooth paste.

To assemble, pour the ganache into the biscuit tart shell. Dollop the peanut butter paste mixture here and there, then with the end of a teaspoon drag and swirl the peanut butter and chocolate together, though don’t take it too far; once you have a marble pattern, stop. Set in the fridge overnight before serving. 

MONT BLANC BISCUIT BUTTIES

The only thing better than chestnut purée is a chocolate, marshmallow and chestnut purée combo, all together in one indulgent biscuit butty. These will keep for a good few weeks in a biscuit tin, if you can resist, that is. 

Ingredients - makes 16-18

  • 200g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 20g unsalted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 100g dark muscovado sugar 70g light muscovado sugar 80g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt

For the Marshmallow Filling

  • 3 gelatine leaves
  • 200g golden caster sugar
  • 75g golden syrup
  • 100ml water
  • 1 x 250g can vanilla chestnut purée, I use the brand Clément Faugier

Essential Equipment

  • Sugar or digital food thermometer
  • At least 2 baking sheets, lined with baking paper
  • Freestanding electric mixer and whisk attachment, or handheld electric whisk
  • Disposable piping bag, with a little of the end snipped off 

Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/Gas 6. Place the chocolate and butter into a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water, and allow to melt slowly. Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs and dark sugars until well combined. Beat the melted chocolate and butter into the sugar and egg, then sift over the flour, baking powder and salt, and beat to a smooth, glossy batter. Allow to cool and thicken slightly.

Scoop heaped teaspoons of the batter on to the lined baking sheets, well apart as they will spread in the oven. You should end up with about 36 blobs, so you might need to bake in batches. Bake for 10–12 minutes, or until well risen, shiny, and cracked over the surface. Allow to cool, out of the oven, on the baking sheet, before removing with a palette knife.

To make the filling, submerge the gelatine leaves, one by one, in a bowl of cold water. Place the sugar, syrup and water in a medium saucepan and heat on high until it reaches 118°C. Quickly squeeze excess moisture from the gelatine, add to the pan and swirl to dissolve. Pour this into the mixer and whisk on full speed until very thick, sticky and only slightly warm: about 5 minutes (this will take about 10 minutes using a handheld electric whisk).

Turn half the cookies over so they are bottom up. Spoon a teaspoon of chestnut purée on to each. Pile the marshmallow into the piping bag, then pipe a ring of marshmallow around the chestnut purée. Sandwich the remaining cookies on top. 


VIENNESE WHIRL MINCE PIES

Mince pies are quite simply a must at Christmas. And don’t worry, I’ll let you use shop bought mincemeat. In fact, the cheapest, sweetest mincemeat is best here to balance with the crisp pastry and the buttery biscuit top, which just disappears in the mouth like a snowflake on the tongue.

Ingredients - makes 12

For the Pastry

  • 200g plain flour
  • 1tsp mixed spice
  • 100g unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 large egg

(Or use 300g shop-bought Shortcrust)

For the Filling and Topping

  • 12tsp mincemeat (about 170g)
  • 150g unsalted butter
  • 150g plain flour
  • 30g cornflour
  • 30g icing sugar, plus extra to dust

Essential Equipment

  • 12-hole bun tray, greased
  • Piping bag fitted with large star nozzle

Method

For the pastry, toss together the flour and mixed spice then rub through the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Beat the egg then add that and cut it in using a dough scraper or butter knife - if a little dry, add cold water a drop at a time. Once the pastry comes together, flatten into a disk wrapped in cling, and chill for at least 30 minutes.

For the Viennese whirl topping, beat the butter until it is very soft indeed. Add the flour, cornflour and icing sugar and beat until you have a very smooth paste – like a thick buttercream. This is best done in a KitchenAid fitted with paddle attachment, though can be done with a handheld electric whisk.

Once chilled, roll out the pastry as thin as you dare on a floured surface, and use to line the bun tray holes – use a cookie cutter to ensure perfect disks. Fill each pastry case with a teaspoon of mincemeat. Load the piping bag with the Viennese paste, and pipe a neat spiral on top of each mince pie – don’t worry if the spiral doesn’t totally cover the mincemeat, as it will spread in the oven. Place into the fridge for 30 minutes to harden. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/gas mark 6.

Once the mince pies have chilled, bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the biscuit tops are just starting to turn a light golden brown. Cool in the bun tray, then remove and dust with icing sugar. 

GLUTEN-FREE CHOCOLATE & HAZELNUT CELEBRATION CAKE

Is it a brownie or is it a cake? Regardless of that quandary it is sheer deliciousness. The caramel-dipped hazelnuts couldn’t be simpler, and they make what would otherwise look like a plain chocolate cake (not that there’s anything wrong with that) into something straight out of a Christmas boutique cake store. And even better, it's gluten free, so more people can revel in the festive feeding frenzy. 

Ingredients - serves 12

  • 200g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 300g blanched hazelnuts 
  • 150g dark muscovado sugar 
  • 150g golden caster sugar
  • 6 eggs, separated

For the ganache

  • 250g dark chocolate 
  • 220ml double cream
  • 30g salted butter, softened

For the hazelnut spikes

  • 200g golden caster sugar 
  • About 20 blanched hazelnuts

Essential equipment

  • 23cm/9-inch loose-bottomed cake tin, greased and lined with baking paper
  • Wire cooling rack 
  • Paper clips 

Method

Preheat the oven to 170°C/150°C fan/Gas 3.

Slowly melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water.

Blitz the hazelnuts in a food processor until roughly chopped, then add the sugars and blitz again to a fine sand. Blitz in the egg yolks and one white; this will be a very stiff batter indeed. When well incorporated, beat in the melted chocolate and set to one side.

Put the egg whites into a clean bowl and whisk them until they are at a medium peak. Spoon a quarter of the egg white on to the batter and beat in to incorporate, then gently fold in the remaining egg whites. Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 35–40 minutes. A skewer inserted in the centre should come out reasonably clean, but the best indication of doneness is a smooth top with perhaps a few cracks, and a subtle springiness to the cake when gently prodded.

Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool completely in the tin.

To make the ganache, place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Put the cream in a small saucepan and heat on high until it begins to bubble around the edges. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and leave for 30 seconds to melt it, then, with a whisk, stir until smooth. Beat in the butter until incorporated, then pour on to a plate to cool until spreadable.

When the cake has cooled, remove it from the tin and place it on a cake stand or platter. Spread the ganache generously over the entire surface – as neatly or as messily as desired.

To make the hazelnut spikes, place a wire cooling rack on the worktop with a short side hanging over the edge by an inch. Place a sheet of baking paper on the floor directly underneath – this will catch any drops of caramel. Place a medium saucepan over a high heat and allow it to get hot. Add a quarter of the sugar and allow that to slowly melt, then add another quarter, and continue until you have used all the sugar – you may have a few lumps of sugar here and there, but the majority of it should be liquid. When the caramel turns a gorgeous amber, remove from the heat and allow to cool and thicken to the consistency of golden syrup – if it sets too solid, melt again over a low heat.

Take a paper clip and straighten one end – you need one end to be hooked and one end straight. Drive the straight end into one of the hazelnuts, then dredge that through the thickened caramel, coating it very generously. Hook the paper clip on to the wire rack and allow the caramel to drip, like a stalactite, towards the floor and set hard. Repeat with all the hazelnuts and allow the caramel to set. When hardened, use a pair of scissors to gently snip the fine threads of caramel off the more robust, decorative spikes. Arrange the hazelnuts, spikes pointing up, in the centre of the cake. 

FIG, STILTON, QUINCE AND PROSCIUTTO PIZZAS

While pizza may at first seem like a dish more suited to summertime, the ingredients here just scream winter cosiness. These would be a delicious treat for a Christmas Eve or New Years Eve supper. 

Ingredients (makes 4)

For the Dough

400g strong white bread flour
7g salt
7g instant yeast 
15g sugar
280ml tepid water
30g butter, melted
Sunflower or Olive oil
Extra flour and ground cornmeal/polenta for dusting

For the Topping

200g stilton cheese
100g quince jelly
12 slices parma ham / proscuitto
2 large figs 
seeds from 1 large pomegranate
Fresh rocket leaves 

Method

Make the bread dough: place the flour into a mixing bowl and stir through the salt, sugar and yeast. Add the water and melted butter and bring the dough into a scraggy ball. Knead on the counter for 5 - 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. If you have a freestanding electric mixer, knead the dough in that using the dough hook for about 5 minutes. Roll the ball of dough in a little oil and allow to rest until doubled in size; about 60 - 90 minutes. 

Place the pizza stone into the oven and heat to 250C. If you don’t have a pizza stone, use a flat baking sheet.

When the dough has risen divide into 4 equal balls (weigh it if you must) roll one ball out into a disk of about 7 inches in diameter. Place this onto a flat baking sheet that is extremely well dusted in flour. Crumble on a quarter of the stilton and a quarter of the quince, drape 3 slices of prosciutto over the top, and half of a fig sliced into 4. Drizzle with a little olive oil, then slide off the baking sheet and onto the ferociously hot pizza stone, and allow to bake for 10 minutes. Repeat with the remaining dough and topping. 

Serve with a scattering of pomegranate seeds and a few rocket leaves. 

FIG, PECAN AND ORANGE BUNDT CAKE

This is a thing of beauty. The texture is moist like a carrot cake, but the flavour is packed with light, zesty orange, the earthy nuttiness of pecans and the gooey, malty sweetness of figs. I like to have it smeared with cream cheese and a spoonful of honey. Even better, if you manage to keep your gannet-like friends from eating every slice, this makes for perfect toast, topped with some boisterous Stilton cheese. The bundt (also known as a gugelhopf) tin you use is your choice, but I recommend one with sharply angled edges. Not only does this look impressive, but because of the sharp edges the sugars caramelize in the cake making it, not crispy, but unbelievably chewy. Please make sure you grease the tin extremely well, otherwise you'll be eating your cake straight from the mould. 

Ingredients - serves 12 

  • 250g salted butter, at room temperature
  • 400g light brown soft sugar 
  • Zest of 2 medium oranges 
  • 2 large eggs
  • 300ml buttermilk
  • 1 tbsp vanilla bean paste or extract
  • 300g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon 
  • 200g pecan pieces
  • 200g dried figs, roughly chopped 

Essential Equipment 

  • 23cm/9-inch non stick bundt tin, sprayed with grease spray or painted liberally with melted butter

Method

Preheat the oven to 170°C/150°C fan/Gas 3.

Place the softened butter in a mixing bowl and add the sugar and zest. Beat together until the sugar is well incorporated in the butter and it is fluffy.

Add the eggs, buttermilk and vanilla and beat in. Sift over the flour, baking powder and cinnamon, and stir in until you have a smooth batter. Fold in the pecans and figs, then scoop into the prepared bundt tin.

Bake for 60–75 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin for a good 30 minutes before inverting onto a cooling rack – this will help to create a gorgeous crust on the cake.

MINCEMEAT AND MARZIPAN CINNAMON BUNS

At Christmas, every single meal should count. I’m never one to skip breakfast, but sometimes it’s a meagre offering, or a quick fridge raid. During the festive period though, I wake up knowing that I have the time to make something indulgent and worthwhile. These buns are perfect with the strongest of coffees, and will keep in an airtight container for a few days.

Ingredients - makes 12

For the Bread

  • 500g strong white flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 5g salt
  • 10g caster sugar
  • 7g fast-action yeast
  • 150ml tepid water
  • 120ml milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 40g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • Flavourless oil, for greasing

For the Filling and Icing

  • 350g luxury mincemeat
  • 150g marzipan, cut into 5mm cubes
  • 1tsp ground cinnamon
  • 100g icing sugar
  • 1-2tsp orange juice

Essential Equipment

  • 12 hole deep muffin tray, very well greased

Method

To make the dough, place the flour in a bowl and stir in the salt and sugar. Add the yeast and stir it through the flour. Add the water, milk and egg and mix well with a wooden spoon or your hands until you have a scraggy dough. Squeeze in the softened butter, then knead until the mixture is smooth and elastic – about 10 minutes. Place the dough into an oiled bowl, cover with cling and allow to rise until doubled in size – usually an hour but could be more if your kitchen is cool.

Once the dough has risen, flour the worktop and roll the dough out into a square of about 45cm/18-inch. Spread the mincemeat all over the dough, then scatter on the marzipan cubes, before dusting over the cinnamon. Roll up into a tight spiral. Trim off the messy ends, then cut the roll into 12 equal-ish slices. Place these, spiral sides up, into the greased muffin tray. Allow to rise for another 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 220C/200C fan/gas mark 8. Bake the buns for 15 minutes, or until risen and golden. Remove from the tin immediately and place onto a wire rack to cool.

For the topping, simply mix together the icing sugar and orange juice to a thick, but pourable icing. Ice the cool buns before serving. 

DOUBLE CHOCOLATE AND GINGER BISCOTTI

Whether these are intended as a gift to another, or a treat for yourself, no Christmas coffee should be without a biscotti to dunk. These aren’t incredibly sweet, but the chocolate flavour is fulfilling and the warmth from the ginger is comforting.

Ingredients - makes 28

  • 230g plain flour
  • 20g cocoa powder
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 125g milk chocolate chips (or a mixture of milk and white)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2tbsp milk
  • 50g stem ginger from a jar, finely chopped

Essential Equipment

  • Large baking sheet, lightly greased 

Method

Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/gas mark 6. In a mixing bowl, toss together the flour, cocoa powder and sugar until evenly dispersed, then stir through the chocolate chips.

In a small cup, beat together the eggs and milk, and add the chopped stem ginger. Pour this into the dry ingredients and bring together, with your hands, into a fairly smooth dough. This takes a little bit of kneading and force, but it will come together.

Roll the dough into a fat sausage about 28cm/11-inch long, place onto the baking sheet and flatten down slightly. Bake for 25 minutes, then remove from the oven and with a sharp serrated knife, gently but firmly slice the biscotti into thin pieces about 1cm thick. Place these, flat onto the baking sheet and bake for a further 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool. 

ROSEMARY AND PISTACHIO BISCOTTI

There’s something very relaxing about the aromatic scent of rosemary. I adore it. These biscotti are perfect for nibbling when there is something on your mind, and especially good for dunking into espresso or a shot of something stronger. They make for delicious Christmas presents, wrapped in cellophane bags. 

Ingredients - makes 18-20

  • 125g plain flour
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder 
  • Zest of 1 large orange 
  • 50g dried apricots, roughly chopped 
  • 80g pistachio kernels, roughly chopped 
  • 1 sprig rosemary, finely chopped 
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp milk 

Essential equipment

  • Baking sheet

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas 4. Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, orange zest, apricots, pistachios and rosemary in a mixing bowl and stir together so that everything is evenly dispersed.

 Beat the egg with the milk, and then pour this into the bowl. Bring everything together into a dough. I find it easiest to use my hands: grab the ingredients and squeeze them together, then, when the mixture forms a rough dough, knead it gently for a minute just to bring it completely together.

Roll the dough into a long fat sausage, about 23cm long, then place it on the baking sheet. Bake for 25 minutes, or until light golden-brown.

Remove from the oven and slice into 1cm-thick pieces. A really sharp serrated knife is best, and do it gently so the biscotti sausage doesn’t crumble. Put these slices back on the baking sheet and back into the oven. Immediately turn the oven down to 130°C/ Gas - and bake for 15 minutes.

Allow to cool completely and you will have a batch of beautifully baked biscotti. 

GINGERBREAD LATTE CAKE

Whilst my Christmas revolves, primarily, around my family and food, I can’t help but let out a little squeal of excitement when I see the coffee shops doing their festive ranges. One of my favourite Christmas coffees is the Gingerbread Latte, and so I just had to put those flavours into a celebratory cake. The cake is gently warming, and the frosting is perfectly sweet and spiked with a subtle coffee hit. 

Ingredients - serves 10-12

For the Cake

  • 250g unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
  • 225g dark muscovado sugar
  • 120g golden syrup
  • 50g black treacle
  • 6 large eggs
  • 340g self raising flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 1tsp bicarb
  • 2tsp ground ginger
  • 1tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2tsp ground nutmeg

For the Frosting

  • 60g unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
  • 200g sweetened condensed milk
  • 2tsp instant espresso powder
  • 500g mascarpone cream cheese
  • Icing sugar to dust

Essential Equipment

  • 3 x 20cm sandwich tins, greased with the bases lined
  • A long, sharp serrated knife

Method

Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas mark 4. Beat the butter and muscovado sugar until smooth and fluffy – ensure you beat all the lumps out of the sugar. Beat in the golden syrup, treacle and eggs until reasonably smooth, then sift over the flour, baking powder, bicarb and spices, and fold in to a smooth batter.

Divide the batter between the cake tins as evenly as possible and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool for 5 minutes in their tins, then invert onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

For the frosting, whisk together the butter and condensed milk until fairly fluffy – about 2 minutes. Add the espresso powder and whisk in, before whisking in the mascarpone until you have a very smooth, fairly thick frosting.

Once the cakes have cooled, very carefully slice each cake in half so that you have 6 thin slices of cake. The best way is to place a cake onto the counter, one hand flat on top of it. With a long and sharp serrated knife, slice a mark all the way around the edge of the cake as evenly as possible. Use that score mark to guide your knife all the way through the cake, sawing very gently but confidently.

Set one layer of cake to one side for the crumb finish. Take the other five layers and start to assemble. Place one cake onto a plate or cake stand, spread it with frosting and repeat until you have five slices of cake sandwiched together. Chill for 10 minutes and then spread the remaining icing around the entire cake as neatly as possible. I find a small offset/crank palette knife works wonders.

For the crumb finish, crumble the reserved layer of cake into small crumbs and gently press these, with a slightly cupped hand, around the cake. If any frosting peaks through, just cover it with crumbs. Finish with a generous snowfall of icing sugar. 

POPCORN YULE LOG

In our house, the chocolate Yule log was always my sister’s duty. I would sit at the kitchen table, seething with jealousy as she scraped a fork back and forth to create wood like ridges in the chocolate frosting. My version of this tightly spiralled cake is gloriously rich, so a little goes a long way, though the buttermilk ganache gives a touch of sourness to cut through it all. You may be surprised at just how much the popcorn flavour comes through.

Ingredients - serves 12 

For the Sponge

  • 5 large eggs
  • 135g caster sugar
  • 115g plain flour
  • 20g cocoa powder Icing sugar to dust

For the Filling

  • 125g caster sugar
  • 100g toffee popcorn, plus extra for decoration
  • 2 x 227g tubs of clotted cream

For the Buttermilk Ganache

  • 100g dark chocolate, chopped
  • 100g milk chocolate, chopped
  • 150ml buttermilk
  • 25g unsalted butter, softened

Essential Equipment

  • 25x35cm/10x14-inch baking tray or swiss roll tin, greased and lined with baking paper
  • Clean damp tea towel

Method

Preheat the oven to 210C/190C fan/gas mark 7. Whisk together the eggs and sugar until the mixture triples in volume and you achieve the ribbon stage – when you lift the whisk from the mixture and draw a figure of eight with the falling mixture, it should sit proudly on the surface for about 3 seconds before sinking away.

Sift over the flour and cocoa powder and fold in making sure the mixture is smooth, though try not to deflate those bubbles too much. Spread into the prepared tin, smooth over the top, and bake for 7-10 minutes, or until the sponge springs back when gently touched.

Whilst the sponge is baking place a clean, damp tea towel onto the worktop, and cover that with a sheet of baking paper dusted liberally with icing sugar. Once the sponge is baked, invert immediately onto the baking paper, then wrap into a very tight spiral inside the baking paper and tea towel. Allow to cool completely.

For the filling, heat the sugar in a dry saucepan over a medium/high flame. The sugar will start to melt and cook. Stirring, allow the sugar to dissolve completely and turn into a caramel, then add the popcorn and stir to coat each piece. Pour onto a heatproof mat or tray and allow to cool. Once set, blitz to a fine sand in a food processor, add the clotted cream, and blitz again into a gritty, popcorn paste.

When the cake has cooled, unroll and spread with the filling, then wrap tightly up. Make the frosting by heating the chocolates and buttermilk in a heatproof bowl over a pan of barezly simmering water. Stirring, allow the mixture to turn into a smooth glossy ganache, then remove from the heat and beat in the butter. Allow to cool, then use that to spread over the log. Slice off each end to neaten, and top with some chopped popcorn. 

ARABIAN NIGHTS PAVLOVA

Pavlova seems an obvious choice at Christmas, not least because of its bleak, snowy whiteness and post-roast lightness. But this, I like to believe, has a more profound Christmas symbolism: it is an ode to the three wise men. Though really there needs to be no excuse for making it.

Ingredients - serves 10-12

For the Meringue

  • 6 large egg whites
  • 340g caster sugar
  • 1tsp cornflour
  • 1tsp white wine vinegar

For the Topping

  • 600ml double cream
  • 4 fresh figs, quartered
  • Kernels from 1 pomegranate
  • 50g dried apricots, finely chopped
  • 75g pistachio kernels
  • 1 persimon, finely sliced
  • 1⁄2 tsp rose water
  • 1tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • Icing sugar to dust

Essential Equipment

  • Large baking sheet, lined with greaseproof/baking paper

Method

Preheat the oven to 160C/140C fan/gas mark 3.

Whisk the egg whites to medium peaks, then slowly add the sugar in a steady stream whilst whisking constantly. Whisk until the sugar has dissolved and you have a very glossy meringue. Add the corflour and vinegar, folding in gently.

Take a fingerful of meringue and dot a little bit onto each corner of the baking paper, then place that down onto the baking sheet to make sure it sticks. Dollop the meringue into the centre of the baking sheet then smooth it into a thick disk of about 23cm in diameter – I use a small crank handle palette knife, but a large flat spoon would work. Place the meringue into the oven, turn the oven down to 140C/120C fan/gas mark 1, and bake for 1 hour 30 minutes, then turn the oven off but leave the meringue inside to cool completely, preferably overnight.

Once cooled, invert the meringue onto a cake stand or plate. For the topping, whisk the cream to soft, floppy peaks and dollop it on top of the meringue. Scatter over the figs, pomegranate kernels, chopped apricots, pistachios and persimon slices. Dribble the rosewater and drizzle the pomegranate molasses over the fruits, before finishing with a snowfall of icing sugar.

Tip: the meringue can be made up to a month beforehand, if stored in an airtight container in the freezer. Though don’t top until an hour before serving, to avoid a soggy mess.