Last post before Christmas from me today, and whether you’re in tier four or not, I think we all deserve a cocktail to bid good riddance to 2020. Christmas is going to look different this year and I hope that this post won’t seem flippant but I’ve had it in draft for the longest time (I meant to post it last Christmas!). So in an attempt to deliver some normality I’m going to share some of my favourite Christmas recipes for sweet treats and cocktails. I usually cook the majority of the food for a gathering of thirteen, I’m going to miss the usual Christmas Day gathering (particularly for my son), but I’m probably not going to miss the batch cooking! Instead this year I will be enjoying some of my favourite simple recipes with a tall glass on the side. Here are my current favourites.
Sabrina Ghayour’s Feta Bites with Preserved Lemon Jam and a Damson Vodka cocktail
Kicking off with two favourites of 2020 for me, I discovered these Feta Bites in the summer and whilst they are super appropriate for tapas style summer gatherings, there isn’t a person who’s tried these that hasn’t exclaimed huge delight and they have become such a firm favourite. I’ve been cooking them through winter too and they make the perfect accompaniment to evening drinks. Which brings me to my second culinary discovery of the year. I picked up some miniature bottles of Liberty Damson Vodka Liqueur as Christmas presents for friends, partly for the prettiness of the bottles to be honest, and got myself an extra to try. It was so darn good that I bought myself the full size bottle which is now almost gone, it’s out of stock at Liberty so I’m saving the final third for Christmas Day, but I have noticed Sloemotion Distillery who produced this drink for Liberty make their own slightly cheaper product (not in such a pretty bottle, sans Liberty print) so I will be stocking up on that in future!
FOR THE FETA
- vegetable oil for frying
- 400 grams feta cheese (2 x 200g blocks, each cut into 8 cubes)
- 150 grams self-raising flour plus extra for dredging
- 1 egg
- 100 millilitres ice-cold water
FOR THE PRESERVED LEMON JAM
- 6 preserved lemons (pick the largest ones in the jar), deseeded and finely chopped
- 6 tablespoons caster sugar
- You make the jam first. Set a small saucepan over a medium heat. Put in the chopped preserved lemon and caster sugar, stir well and cook until thickened (8 minutes roughly). Take the pan off the heat and set aside.
- Heat a saucepan over a medium-high heat and pour in the oil to a depth of a few centimetres.
- Carefully dredge the cubes of feta in flour.
- In a measuring jug, whisk together one egg and the 100ml of cold water, then add the self-raising flour and mix very lightly. Avoid overmixing to whisk out lumps – it is the lumps that will keep the batter light.
- Pick up your feta pieces with a skewer. Insert a skewer gently into the centre of each feta cube, dip the cube into the batter to coat it and then slide the cube off the skewer into the hot oil and fry until the feta cube is golden brown on all sides. Immediately follow with as many other cubes as you can fit into the saucepan without overcrowding it. When cooked, drain on a plate lined with kitchen paper and serve with preserved lemon jam on the side for dunking.
DAMSON VODKA COCKTAIL
- Damson Vodka Liqueur
- Rosemary to garnish
So simple that it hardly needs writing down (!), but I mix two parts of either Diet Coke, Italian lemonade or prosecco to one part damson vodka liquor. Here I have used prosecco as it feels more festive but have also found the other mixers I suggest above equally as good. Garnish with rosemary and drink!
Salted Caramel White Russian with a twist (Ameretto and Cold Brew Coffee) served with Ottolenghi’s Christmas Shortbread
This next cocktail is something I’ve been making each Christmas since discovering Salted Caramel Baileys, I make it each year on Christmas Eve to accompany any last minute present wrapping, pushing the boat out when friends come over by melting some dolce de leche to line the bottom of the glass for decoration. The Christmas biscuits are a new discovery this year after looking for an isolation activity to do with my son last week and though both are a mix of heady flavours, I think they work together.
- Dulce de leche sauce
- 25ml (one shot) Salted Caramel Irish Cream
- 25ml Amaretto
- 75ml cold brew coffee with almond milk
- Heat a small amount of Dulce de leche for a few moments in the microwave to loosen, using a teaspoon lightly drizzle it into the bottom of the glass, while slowly turning the glass so you get a nice swirled effect.
Fill the glass with ice.
- Next, add your liquid ingredients to your cocktail shaker, along with a few cubes of ice. Shake well and strain in to the glasses. Garnish with a spring of rosemary, a festive cocktail decoration (as I have here), a bit of chocolate or even a candy cane!
Ottolenghi’s Christmas Biscuits with star anise, saffron and orange.
- 410 g plain white flour plus for dusting surface
- 165g caster sugar
- ⅛ tsp baking powder
- 1½ tsp finely ground star anise (from 2-3 whole star anise; use a spice grinder)
- 1 tsp crushed salt
- Finely grated zest of 1 large orange
- Scraped seeds from ½ vanilla pod or a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste
- 250g fridge-cold, unsalted butter, cut into 2cm cubes
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 40g pistachios, finely chopped
For the saffron syrup
- ⅓ tsp saffron threads
- 1 tbsp water
- 2 tsp caster sugar
For the icing
- 190g icing sugar, sifted
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp water
- ¼ tsp orange blossom water
I followed this recipe from a piece I found in The Guardian, the instructions are perfect so I will link to the piece here.
Ottolenghi‘s Persian Love Cakes
Finally one of my favourite Ottolenghi cakes (to be honest I think I could compile a top 10 of these as he has created so many I love!). This one is perfect in winter with a cup of tea, the warming spices of nutmeg and mahleb, the perfect contrast of textures, this is a hug in a loaf case to me. It is topped with Pomegranate seeds, perfect as festive jewels at this time of year, but I have also topped them with blueberries before and this works really well if you find pomegranate trickier to get hold of at the time. I have also replaced buckwheat with porridge oats in the food processor when I didn’t have buckwheat to no ill effect.
- 240g ground almonds
- 135g demerara sugar
- 135g soft light brown sugar
- 50g buckwheat flour
- 80g unsalted butter, fridge-cold, cubed
- ¾ tsp salt
- 160g Greek-style natural yoghurt
- 2 eggs
- 1 tbsp mahleb (or ¼ tsp almond extract)
- ¾ tsp ground nutmeg
- To serve (at room temperature):
- 60g mascarpone
- 1½ tsp pistachio kernels, slivered or finely crushed
- pomegranate seeds (optional)
- icing sugar, for dusting
1 Preheat the oven to 180C/160C Fan/Gas Mark 4.
2 Place the ground almonds, both sugars, flour, butter and salt in a food processor and blitz a few times, until the mixture has the consistency of breadcrumbs. Transfer two-thirds of the mix – about 430g – to a large bowl along with the yoghurt, eggs, mahleb and nutmeg. Mix to combine and set aside.
3 Line the base of 12 mini loaf tin financier moulds with the remaining third of the crumb mix: it should come about a third of the way up the sides of the moulds. Use a teaspoon to press the mix into the base of the moulds, as you would a cheesecake, so that it is compact.
4 Using two teaspoons, fill each mould to the top with the yoghurt mix, and level off with a palette knife for an even finish. Place the moulds on a baking tray and cook for 30–35 minutes, rotating the tray halfway through, until the cakes are dark golden brown on top and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. The cakes will look slightly uncooked and damp inside, but this is the way they should be and is considered part of their charm.
Allow the cakes to cool in their tins for before unmoulding them. Placing a piece of paper over the loaves at an angle to cover half the loaf on the diagonal sprinkle with icing sugar. Serve by spooning a little mascarpone on top of each cake and topping with the crushed pistachios and a pomegranate seed and serve.
I will be making Nigella’s Italian inspired Christmas Pudding Cake with accompanying maron glacé and festive Creme de marscapone this year for the first time in ages, and if I get a second shall incorporate the fruits of that into this post. What do you like baking and drinking at Christmas? Happy Christmas to you, I hope you have a good one, whatever the circumstances.
Update, I did make Nigella’s classic twist on creme de marscapone and Christmas pudding, find the recipe details here, and see the results below. Merry Christmas x