Christmas is definitely my favorite holiday of the year. Yes, presents have a big role in it (giving them as well of course – I just love surprising my loved ones with well thought out gifts) but the other two more important things are family and amazing food. A Christmas dinner combines all of the above and also gives me the chance to go all out with table decorations. I upgrade the menu and the decoration a little every year. The only thing that has been the same for quite a few years it the dessert – Quadruple Chocolate Loaf Cake. You don’t change what’s already perfect, right? For the table decoration I decided to make it really chic this year in a white and gold combination. With a mix of homemade and store bought decorations I think it turned out really pretty.
But now let’s move on to the most important part – the menu. Here’s what was on the menu and how the menus looked like:
As you can see it was a four course meal, started with a glass of champagne and finished with a warm substitute of the more common mulled wine – “Apple Strudel” (or so I’ve planned but my loved ones were too full after all the courses so we just skipped this part and watched two Christmas movies instead). As a cold appetizer, I served homemade spelt rosemary grissini with prosciutto, a selection of breads with beef tartar, cheese and bread spreads. I made the grissini myself, following the below recipe.
Spelt rosemary grissini
Since Christmas dinner is one of the most special occasions of the year, I believe we should take the time and really prepare a homely meal. You can get grissini at any story these days, even spelt flour ones in some specialized stores, but I decided to make them myself this year. Firstly, because I love to take the time and prepare as much of the food I can myself, to show my loved ones I really care, secondly, that way I really know the ingredients in our food, thirdly, because I wanted the grissini to have rosemary in them, and last but not least, because I love to cook and simply adore trying to make new stuff. Of course, since it’s not just any meal but THE Christmas dinner, I couldn’t leave anything to coincidence and did not want to risk something not turning out as it should; I decided to bake a small test batch of grissini a few days before. After carefully going through quite a few recipes online, I decided to go with the one below since it used fresh yeast and I could save myself the trouble of transforming active dry yeast amounts into fresh yeast amounts. Anyways, the test batch of grissini turned out delicious (I was having a really hard time not to eat them all right away) so they got the green light for the big event. I wrapped each grissini with a slice of Slovenian prosciutto and served them as one of the cold appetizers.
500g spelt flour
1 ½ tsp salt
250 ml warm water
15g fresh yeast
1 tsp honey
50g olive oil plus extra for brushing
3-4 tbsp rosemary
1. Pour about 5 tbsp of the warm water into a small cup, add the honey and stir until blended. Crumble the yeast into the honey mixture and stir. Let the yeast mixture sit until it puffs.
2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt and rosemary. Add the water and yeast mixture and begin to stir. As you are stirring, add the oil in a stream.
3. Once the dough is thoroughly mixed together, add a bit more water if too dry.
4. Place the dough on a wooden board and knead until you have a soft dough that is smooth and elastic (you may also mix and knead these ingredients in a mixer with a dough hook but I decided to stick with the hand kneading).
5. Sprinkle spelt flour on a large cutting board. Form the dough into a rectangle and place on the floured board. Brush the rectangle of dough with olive oil, including the sides of the dough, and dust with spelt flour. Place the dough, uncovered, in a warm place, until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
6. Heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
7. Cover baking sheets with baking parchment paper. With a large, straight edged knife, cut the dough on the short side of the rectangle into a thin strip about 1 cm wide. Grasp the two ends of the dough strip with your fingers, and gently stretch it until it is the length of the baking pan, and place it on the parchment-lined pan. Repeat this process, leaving about 3 cm between each grissino. Don’t worry if they are not identical, that is a part of their look! Rolling them on the surface with both your hands will make them look more professional.
8. Bake 17 minutes until golden, and place on rack to cool.The irregular shape is characteristic of these hand-pulled grissini, with the thinnest parts being crunchier than the thicker parts, but they should be overall nice and crispy.
9. If everyone doesn’t immediately gobble these up, store them in an airtight container to keep them from getting damp just make sure the breadsticks are completely cool first (if they do get damp and lose their crunch, you can revive them by placing them in a hot oven for a couple of minutes, being careful not to burn them.)
Creamy smoked salmon, leek and potato soup
Our hot appetizer was a creamy smoked salmon, leek and potato soup. I’ve never made this soup before but the combination of ingredients in the recipe I’ve found sounded so delicious that I decided to take the risk and make this soup for the first time for our Christmas dinner. The risk paid off because the soup was a great success. I really suggest you make this soup and see for yourself. I will definitely be making it again some time soon (it was requested by my family before we even finished our hot appetizer)!
Ingredients (serves 8):
large knob of butter
2 large leeks, halved and finely sliced
1 bay leaf
1kg floury potatoes, diced
1l vegetable stock
100ml double cream
200g smoked salmon, cut into strips
1. Heat the butter in a large saucepan and add the leeks and bay leaf. Cook over a low heat for 8-10 mins or until the leek is really soft, then stir through the potatoes until coated in the butter. Pour over the stock and cream and bring to the simmer, then gently bubble for 10-15 mins until the potatoes are really tender.
2. Add two-thirds of the smoked salmon, stir through and season. Serve the soup in deep bowls with the remaining smoked salmon on the top.
Beef Wellington with Roasted Potatoes and Mixed Vegetables
For the main course, I decided to make another dish I have never made before – Beef Wellington. First I had to look for a recipe I liked the most and decided to go with the one I found on Food Network. As if the fact that I was making this dish for the first time wasn’t enough, I decided to make my own puff pastry as well. I made it by following this recipe and it turned out great. Don’t get scared by the complicated procedure, it really is worth making your own pastry and knowing exactly what the ingredients are. It takes about 6 hours to make it but most of the time the ingredients are chilling in the fridge which gives you time to prepare other dishes for the dinner. So there really is no excuse for not making your own puff pastry, right? I served the beef with simple roasted potatoes with rosemary inspired by Rudolph van Veen and some delicious veggies (carrots, green peas, broccoli and cauliflower).
For the Duxelles:
675g white button mushrooms
2 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
thyme to taste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
For the Beef:
1 center cut beef tenderloin (filet mignon), trimmed
Extra-virgin olive oil
thin slices prosciutto
fresh or dried thyme
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Spelt puff pastry (made following this recipe)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
For the Duxelles:
Add mushrooms, shallots, garlic, and thyme to a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add butter and olive oil to a large saute pan and set over medium heat. Add the shallot and mushroom mixture and saute for 8 to 10 minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool. The mixture will look more like a paste.
For the Beef:
1. Tie the tenderloin in 4 places so it holds its cylindrical shape while cooking. Drizzle with olive oil, then season with salt and pepper and sear all over, including the ends, in a hot, heavy-based skillet lightly coated with olive oil – about 2 to 3 minutes. Meanwhile set out your prosciutto on a sheet of plastic wrap (plastic needs to be about a foot and a half in length so you can wrap and tie the roast up in it) on top of your cutting board. Shingle the prosciutto so it forms a rectangle that is big enough to encompass the entire filet of beef. Using a rubber spatula cover evenly with a thin layer of duxelles. Season the surface of the duxelles with salt and pepper and sprinkle with fresh or dried thyme leaves. When the beef is seared, remove from heat, cut off twine and smear lightly all over with Dijon mustard. Allow to cool slightly, then roll up in the duxelles covered prosciutto using the plastic wrap to tie it up nice and tight. Tuck in the ends of the prosciutto as you roll to completely encompass the beef. Roll it up tightly in plastic wrap and twist the ends to seal it completely and hold it in a nice log shape. Set in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to ensure it maintains its shape.
2. Preheat oven to 220 degrees Celsius.
3. On a lightly floured surface, roll the puff pastry out to about a 1/4-inch thickness. Depending on the size of your sheets you may have to overlap 2 sheets and press them together. Remove beef from refrigerator and cut off plastic. Set the beef in the center of the pastry and fold over the longer sides, brushing with egg wash to seal. Trim ends if necessary then brush with egg wash and fold over to completely seal the beef – saving ends to use as a decoration on top if desired. Top with coarse sea salt. Place the beef seam side down on a baking sheet.
4. Brush the top of the pastry with egg wash then make a couple of slits in the top of the pastry using the tip of a paring knife – this creates vents that will allow the steam to escape when cooking. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until pastry is golden brown. If you wish your beef to be cooked all the way through, bake it for about 1 hour but keep an eye on the pastry and cover the beef with some baking paper if needed to prevent the pastry from burning. Remove from oven and rest before cutting into thick slices. Serve with your choice of side dishes.
Quadruple chocolate loaf cake
I could not have described this cake better than Nigella already did: »This cake is not named for the bypass you might feel you’d need after eating it, but in honour of the four choc-factors that comprise its glory: cocoa to make the cake; chocolate chips or morsels to fold into it; a chocolate syrup to drench it once out of the oven; flakily sliced dark chocolate to top it before slicing.« As I mentioned above, I make this cake every year in December and my family loves it so there was no reason for not making it this year again.
for the cake
200g spelt flour (half regular, half whole wheat)
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
50g cocoa powder
275 g brown sugar
175g soft unsalted butter
2 large eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
80ml sour cream
125ml boiling water
175g dark chocolate chips
for the syrup
1 tsp cocoa powder
100g brown sugar, ground
25g dark chocolate (from a thick bar) for garnishing
1. Take whatever you need out of the fridge so that all ingredients can come to room temperature.
2. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius putting in a baking sheet as you do so, and line a 900g / 2lb loaf tin (mine measures 21 x 11cm and 7.5cm deep / 9½ x 4½ inches and 3 inches deep and the cooking times are based on that) with greased foil – making sure there are no tears – and leave an overhang all round. Or use a silicon tin.
3. Put the flour, bicarb, cocoa, sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla and sour cream into the processor and blitz till a smooth, satiny brown batter. Scrape down with a rubber spatula and process again while pouring the boiling water down the funnel. Switch it off then remove the lid and the well-scraped double-bladed knife and, still using your rubber spatula, stir in the chocolate chips or morsels.
4. Scrape and pour this beautiful batter into the prepared loaf tin and slide into the oven, cooking for about 1 hour. When it’s ready, the loaf will be risen and split down the middle and a cake-tester, or a fine skewer, will pretty well come out clean. But this is a damp cake so don’t be alarmed at a bit of stickiness in evidence; rather, greet it.
5. Not long before the cake is due out of the oven – say when it’s had about 45-50 minutes – put the syrup ingredients of cocoa, water and sugar into a small saucepan and boil for 5 minutes. You may find it needs a little longer: what you want is a reduced liquid, that’s to say a syrup, though I often take it a little further, so that the sugar caramelizes and the syrup has a really dark, smokey chocolate intensity.
6. Take the cake out of the oven and sit it on a cooling rack and, still in its tin, pierce here and there with a cake tester. Then pour the syrup as evenly as possible, which is not very, over the surface of the cake. It will run to the sides of the tin, but some will have been absorbed in the middle.
7. Let the cake become completely cold and then slip out of its tin, removing the foil as you do so. Sit on an oblong or other plate. Now take your bar of chocolate, wrapped in foil if you haven’t got much of its wrapper left, and cut with a heavy sharp knife, so that it splinters and flakes and falls in slices of varying thickness and thinness.
8. I’ve specified a weight, but really go by eye: when you think you’ve got enough to scatter over the top of the loafcake, stop slicing. Sprinkle these chocolate splinters over the top of the sticky surface of the cake.
Despite the fact that we didn’t make it to this part of my menu, I decided to share this recipe with you because it is so simple and delicious and it could come in handy in the remaining December days. This really is a simple alternative to the more popular mulled wine. And it really tastes like apple strudel!
Mix the ingredients in a large pot and slowly bring to a simmer. The amounts depend on the number of people you wish to serve. Use about 1/4 cup of Malibu and 3/4 cup apple juice and water mixture per person. For measuring, use the cups you will serve the drink in. Serve warm in tea cups.
Happy holidays and a happy, successful and peaceful New Year to all of you!