Christmas at River Cottage by Lucy Brazier and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Christmas at River Cottage by Lucy Brazier
What’s the USP? Everything you need to know in order to do Christmas the River Cottage way, which roughly translates as sustainable, organic and do-it-yourself. After reading this book you’ll be ready to start knocking up your own homemade mince pies, gifts and decs while necking copious amounts of rumtopf. That sounds like a Merry Christmas to me.

Who wrote it? Lucy Brazier is a writer and course tutor at River Cottage, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s HQ in Axminster that offers courses in cooking, gardening and artisan skills.  Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is a multi-award-winning writer and broadcaster and environmentalist committed to seasonal, ethically produced food. He is the author of numerous cookbooks and has fronted many TV series including River Cottage for Channel 4, the series that first brought him to the nation’s attention. His campaigning TV programmes have included Hugh’s Fish FightHugh’s War on Waste and Britain’s Fat Fight.

Is it good bedtime reading? You’ll want to get comfortably tucked up in bed with Christmas at River Cottage ideally a year ahead so you can put in to action all the advice in the ‘Planning Ahead’ chapter and begin growing your own produce and buying all the preserving kit you’ll need to make your own jams, pickles, booze, non-alcoholic drinks, syrups and cordials and fermented drinks. You’ll be in the perfect place as you’ll be exhausted just reading about all the work in store for you, never mind actually doing it. And that’s before you get to ‘Decking the Halls’ where you’ll learn how to craft your own willow Christmas wreath,  make tree decorations from dried orange and apple slices and how to make your own calendar in the ‘Advent’ chapter.

What’s the faff factor? It depends if you view the planning-ahead required to make things like red cabbage and beetroot pickle which needs to be prepared several weeks in advance, or marrow and chilli relish that needs six months to mature. But there are plenty of do-on-the-day recipes such as quick kedgeree and kale with anchovy cream that are straightforward enough.

How often will I cook from the book? If you take the homemade ethos to heart, then you may be cooking regularly from the book throughout the year making the jams, preserves and pickles in time for the big day, otherwise, it’s going to be mostly useful to you once a year.

What will I love? The book covers everything you need for a homespun festive break, from table decorations and drinks to the Christmas roast with all the trimmings and your own homemade Christmas pudding.

Killer recipes: Lentil salad with herby dressing; midwinter vegan tart; curried potato tart; beef and stout stew; mulled wine; prune and apricot stollen; Yule ham; Christmas Eve pizzas; turkey au vin.

Should I buy it? If you’re no longer satisfied with store-bought decorations and a turkey breast joint from Iceland and you want to get seriously hands-on with Christmas preparations all year round, then this is an essential purchase. Even for the less dedicated, there’s plenty of inspiration to make your Christmas a bit more special and personalised than it might usually be.

Cuisine: British
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Christmas at River Cottage
£22, Bloomsbury Publishing

A Festive Fumble by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

L1450308

6 servings

For the ‘independent’ crumble:
50g butter, diced (or use 50ml vegetable oil, for a vegan crumble)
75g light wholemeal cake flour or wholegrain spelt flour
50g porridge oats or fine oatmeal 50g ground almonds or hazelnuts 100g almonds, hazelnuts or walnuts, roughly bashed or chopped, or 100g cooked chestnuts, crumbled
30g sugar (soft brown, golden granulated or demerara)
A pinch of salt

For the Bramley and verbena compote:
Juice of 1 lemon
1kg Bramley or other cooking apples
12 dried lemon verbena leaves (see book)
50–100g caster sugar

To serve:
Plain yoghurt, lightly whipped cream (or a mixture of both)

For the crumble, preheat the oven to 190°C/Fan 170°C/Gas 5 and have ready a large baking tray. Either rub the butter into the flour in a large bowl to get a coarse breadcrumb texture then stir in the other ingredients, or soften the butter first and mix everything together in one go with your hands (which is the best approach if you’ve used oil).

Either way, break the mix into chunky clumps and spread out in the baking tray. Bake for 15–20 minutes, stirring the mix at least once, until golden brown. Leave to cool completely. If you are not using it straight away, store the crumble in a jar, or sealed tin or plastic container for up to a week.

To make the compote, put the lemon juice into a large pan. Peel, core and slice the apples into the pan, tossing them with the juice as you go so they don’t brown. Add the dried lemon verbena leaves, sugar and 2 tbsp water.

Bring to a simmer, stirring often, and cook gently, stirring occasionally to help the apples break down, for about 20 minutes until you have a slightly chunky purée. Taste and add more sugar if you like – but keep the compote nicely tart because it will be paired with the sweet crumble. You can either serve your compote straight away or let it cool then chill it.

To assemble your festive fumble, divide the apple compote between serving glasses or bowls. Add a generous dollop of yoghurt, whipped cream or a combination of the two. Top with a layer of crumble mix, and tuck in – swirling your fumble as you eat.

Variation
Citrusy Bramley compote
Instead of lemon verbena, use the finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange; also include the grated zest of the lemon used in the recipe. Add to the lemon juice in the pan as you start the apple compote and proceed as above, but don’t add the 2 tbsp water.

Cook more from this book
Chestnut and Chocolate Cake by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
My Favourite Stuffing by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Read the review
Coming soon

Buy this book
Christmas at River Cottage
£22, Bloomsbury Publishing

Extract taken from Christmas at River Cottage by Lucy Brazier, with seasonal notes and recipes from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (Bloomsbury, £22)
Photography © Charlotte Bland

Chestnut and Chocolate Cake by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Chesnut and Chocolate Cake
This is one of my family’s favourite chocolate ‘pudding’ cakes, and I make it at least once every Christmas (and not infrequently for birthdays and other celebrations too). It’s delectably tender, fudgy and chocolatey, and not too sweet or over-rich. You can serve it warm from the oven, with a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream, but it’s also good made a day or two ahead and served cold or at room temperature.

Serves 10–12
250g peeled cooked chestnuts (vacuum-packed or tinned are fine)
250ml milk
250g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids), broken up
250g unsalted butter, roughly cut up
4 medium eggs, separated
100g caster sugar

You will also need:
A 25cm springform cake tin

Preheat the oven to 170°C/Fan 150°C/Gas 3, and grease and line your 25cm springform cake tin.

Put the chestnuts and milk into a pan and heat until just boiling. Take off the heat and mash well with a potato masher – you are aiming for a creamy purée, with just a few crumbly bits of chestnut. Set aside.

Put the chocolate and butter into a second pan and place over a very low heat. Keeping a close eye, to ensure that the chocolate doesn’t get too hot, melt them gently together, stirring now and then. Allow to cool a little.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a large bowl until blended and creamy (they don’t need to reach a ‘moussey’ stage). Stir in the warm (not hot) chocolate mixture and then the chestnut purée, to create a well- blended batter.

Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl until they hold stiff peaks. Take one spoonful of egg white and mix it into the batter to loosen it, then fold the rest in lightly, trying not to knock out too much air. Carefully transfer the mixture to the prepared tin. Bake for 25–30 minutes until the cake is just set but with a slight wobble still in the centre.
To serve warm, leave to 22, a little then release the cake from the tin. Slice carefully – it will be very soft and moussey. Alternatively, leave the cake to go cold, when it will have set a bit firmer.

Cook more from this book
A Festive Fumble by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
My Favourite Stuffing by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Read the review
Coming soon

Buy this book
Christmas at River Cottage
£22, Bloomsbury Publishing

Extract taken from Christmas at River Cottage by Lucy Brazier, with seasonal notes and recipes from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (Bloomsbury, £22)

Photography © Charlotte Bland

 

My Favourite Stuffing by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

My Favourite Stuffing
Serves 6–8

500g fresh or vac-packed chestnuts 2 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 head of celery, tough outer stems removed, finely chopped
12 plump prunes, stoned and roughly chopped
6–8 sage leaves, chopped
A couple of sprigs of thyme, leaves picked
A small bunch of parsley, leaves picked and chopped
100g fresh (or stale) breadcrumbs 50g hazelnuts, roughly bashed,
and/or pumpkin seeds (optional) Sea salt and black pepper

If you are preparing whole chestnuts from scratch, make a small slit in the skin of each one, then blanch in boiling water for about 2 minutes to ease peeling. Drain and, once cool enough to handle, peel off both the tough outer skin and the thin, brown inner skin. Now simmer in unsalted water for 15–20 minutes, until completely tender. Drain and leave to cool. Put the chestnuts (home-cooked or vac-packed) into a bowl and break up roughly with a fork – they should be crumbled rather than puréed.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and celery and sweat for 10–15 minutes, until softened and golden. Add the prunes, chestnuts, herbs and some salt and pepper. Mix well and cook for another 8–10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat.

When the mixture has cooled a little, mix in all but a handful of the breadcrumbs until well combined. You can add a dash of warm water or veg stock if that’s needed to bring it together.

Preheat the oven to 190°C/Fan 170°C/Gas 5. Oil an ovenproof dish and pile in the stuffing, packing it down fairly firmly. Rough up the surface a bit with a fork, then scatter over the reserved breadcrumbs and hazelnuts and/ or pumpkin seeds if including. Trickle over a little more oil, and bake for about 30 minutes until nicely browned and crisp on top. Serve hot.

Cook more from this book
A Festive Fumble by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Chestnut and Chocolate Cake by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Read the review
Coming soon

Buy this book
Christmas at River Cottage
£22, Bloomsbury Publishing

Extract taken from Christmas at River Cottage by Lucy Brazier, with seasonal notes and recipes from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (Bloomsbury, £22)
Photography © Charlotte Bland

Advent by Anja Dunk

Advent by Anja Dunk

What’s the USP? Oh, brace yourself for this, because it’s been a while. We’re always talking about cookbooks’ USPs around here, but really, how often does a book strike you as truly stand out? Truly unique? So you’ve written a book about vegan Chinese food? How quaint. What’s that? Your book looks at meals that can all be cooked in a single pan? WELL I NEVER.

Not today, my friend. Advent is a cookbook that offers twenty-four chapters (see what they did there?) that are all dedicated specifically to the world of German Christmas baking. Now that – that is a USP.

Who wrote it? Anja Dunk, who is perhaps best known for her 2018 book Strudel, Noodles and Dumplings, which dove head first into contemporary German cooking (and had one of the more satisfying titles to say aloud that year).

Germany goes hard on Christmas, from the famous markets that coax pensioners out by the coach-load in non-pandemic times to their over-the-top advent calendars that make even my Lego one seem a little uninspired (though today I got to build a very festive vaccination centre, so it’s not exactly like Lego are pulling their creative weight here either). Baking is a facet of German Christmases that we are perhaps under familiar with here in the UK. Sure, we all know our lebkuchen and stollen, but how many of us can really claim to know what differentiates a spritzgebäck from a gewürzplätzchen? Here comes Dunk, with a seasonal barrage of goodwill (and a wealth of biscuit options).

Is it good bedtime reading? Dunk opens her book with a festive introduction filled with personal anecdotes and cultural insights, painting a vivid picture of a Christmas that runs in close parallel to our own British traditions. Recipe introductions vary, and though many tend towards the short and sweet, others take a moment to expand on unfamiliar ideas or offer a peek into German homes. It’s all very cosy, and whilst it may not keep you occupied for long, Advent begs to be read whilst tucked in under a duvet, plotting the treats that will see you through to the new year.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Books about baking need a lot of specificity, and Dunk doubles down on this, offering measurements for both European and US readers. She also makes sure to give tactile advice that will reassure infrequent bakers that they aren’t totally off-track (“the dough is pretty tacky and so won’t look all that neat,” she kindly informs us of her Chocolate and Ginger Biscotti, confirming that it will all even out in the oven).

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? No big asks here – in fact, the nature of cosy festive baking means that should you struggle to source ingredients from the shops, you can likely find some knocking about at the back of your Nan’s kitchen cupboard.

How often will I cook from the book? It’s about Christmas baking, so in all honesty you’re unlikely to get much use out of Advent from January through mid-November. Nevertheless, there are a few recipes that will be welcome year-round, from ‘German pizza’ Flammkuchen to the aforementioned biscotti coverage. Those with a particular fondness for home baked biscuits may consider this a vital purchase, though.

What will I love? The sheer coverage of the relatively niche corner of German cooking that Dunk has dedicated her book to. Beautifully presented and smartly organised, this is a title that does everything it claims to, and does so with elegance that few other cookbooks offer. There’s also a pair of exceptionally thoughtful contents pages at the back, listing all the vegan and gluten-free recipes respectively.

What won’t I love? Because the book clings so tightly to the Germanic Christmas tradition, with only a few recipes drawing on immediate neighbours, it can feel a little bit repetitive. Perhaps it would have been more interesting to have replaced one of the marzipan chapters with other European festive bakes.

Killer recipes: Jam-filled Lebkuchen Hearts, Cherry and Almond Florentines, Dried Pear Fruit Loaf, Spiced Chocolate and Prune Fudge Pake, Linzer Biscuits, ‘Fire Tongs’ Punch

Should I buy it? A lovely addition to the bookshelf for fans of baking and Christmas treats, this is an excellent book that you will only use for one month a year. But what a month it’ll be.

Cuisine: German
Suitable for: Beginner and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Cook from this book
Christmas Stollen (Weihnachtsstollen) by Anja Dunk
Christmas Wreath (Weihnachtskranz) by Anja Dunk

Buy this book
Advent: Festive German Bakes to Celebrate the Coming of Christmas
£25, Quadrille Publishing Ltd

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

Christmas Stollen (Weihnachtsstollen) by Anja Dunk

Christmas stollen by Anja Dunk

Stollen is a quintessential part of German Christmas, and the most renowned version originates from the East German city of Dresden, where it is called Christstollen. It is sold in Christmas markets up and down the country, but in Dresden itself they even have a special festival (Stollenfest) just before the second Sunday of Advent, where a giant-sized Stollen is marched through crowds of appreciators and admirers on the streets to many oohs and aahs before it is cut up and sold off in pieces.

Butter is one of the key ingredients that make a Stollen dough so rich, the others being eggs and boozy dried fruit. Just as important as what goes into the Stollen itself is what it is covered by, which is usually more butter and two layers of sugar. The first layer is a fine vanilla-scented caster sugar, and the second a flurry of snow-white icing sugar. This type of traditional Stollen requires a maturing period of a couple of weeks before it tastes its best. It’s quite hard when first baked, but after some time in a tin wrapped up snugly in foil, it softens and develops a moister texture. I usually bake Stollen in the first week of December.

Often a Stollen is filled or flecked with marzipan too, which I like very much – if you choose to add marzipan to this recipe simply roll some out into a sausage shape and nestle it in the centre.

MAKES 1 LARGE STOLLEN (SERVES 10–12)
75g (2½oz) mixed peel
175g (6oz) raisins
1 tbsp dark rum
1 tsp vanilla extract
350g (2½ cups) strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
50g (¼ cup) caster (superfine) sugar
½ tsp fine sea salt
¼ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cardamom
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
150g (²⁄₃ cup) unsalted butter, at room temp, cut into cubes
1 egg
20g (¾oz) fresh yeast, or 10g (¹⁄₃oz) dried
150ml (₅⁄₈ cup) tepid whole milk
60g (2oz) flaked (slivered) almonds

To coat
50g (3½ tbsp) unsalted butter, melted
50g (¼ cup) vanilla
sugar (see page 12)
50g (generous ¹⁄₃ cup)
icing (confectioners’)
sugar, plus extra to serve

Put the mixed peel and raisins into a bowl, spoon over the rum and vanilla extract and set aside to infuse while you prepare the dough.

Put the flour, sugar, salt, spices and lemon zest into a large mixing bowl and mix together with a wooden spoon. Add the butter and egg. Crumble the yeast (or sprinkle if using dried) into the tepid milk and stir to dissolve. Pour the yeasted milk into the flour mixture and, using your hands, bring the ingredients together until a rough dough is formed. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead with the heels of your hands for about 10 minutes until it becomes more elastic. Form it into a neat ball and nestle it into the bottom of the bowl. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and set aside in a warm spot to rise for 1–3 hours until visibly larger in size.

As the amount of butter in this dough is hefty, it won’t double in size when it rises; you’re looking for the dough to expand roughly by half its size again. (Alternatively, put the dry ingredients and lemon zest into the bowl of a free-standing electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the butter and egg. Pour in the yeasted milk and knead for 5 minutes until the dough is elastic. Cover and set aside, as above.)

Knock the dough back with your fist and add the almonds and boozy dried fruit (along with any liquid) to the dough. Knead the fruit and nuts through for a couple of minutes until evenly incorporated. Form it into a neat ball and nestle it into the bottom of the bowl. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and set aside in a warm spot for
about 20 minutes for a short second rise.

Lightly dust the work surface with flour, gently tip the dough out and roll into a rectangle 30 × 15cm/12 × 6in. Lay the dough on a large baking sheet lined with non-stick baking parchment, take one of the long sides and fold it three-quarters of the way back over the dough to create a classic Strudel shape. Lay a tea towel over the shaped Stollen and put in a warm place for a third rise of 30 minutes, by which time the Stollen should have risen slightly again. Heat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/400°F.
Bake for about 50 minutes until browned all over, checking after 30 minutes; if it looks quite brown already, cover it with a layer of foil to stop it from burning (butter-rich yeasted doughs tend to colour quite easily).

Transfer the baked Stollen to a wire rack and, while still hot, brush all over with the melted butter, repeating until there is no butter left. Sprinkle the vanilla sugar over the top, then sift the icing sugar over that. Allow the Stollen to cool fully before wrapping tightly in a double layer of foil. Store in an airtight container for at least a week (I think it’s best to leave it 2) before slicing and serving. The Stollen will keep well for a good 2 months. When ready to serve, dust with a little icing sugar again.

Cook more from this book
Christmas wreath (Weihnachtskranz) by Anja Dunk

Read the review
Coming soon
Buy this book
Advent: Festive German Bakes to Celebrate the Coming of Christmas
£25, Quadrille

Christmas wreath (Weihnachtskranz) by Anja Dunk

Christmas wreath by Anja Dunk
This might well be the prettiest thing to have come out of our kitchen all year. It has a light and fluffy, yet rich, moist and indulgent crumb. I know some of you might find glacé cherries a little too much, and you probably aren’t wrong – aside from a handful of recipes, this one included, I’m inclined to agree. They are, after all, a shallow ingredient that’s more about looks than taste.

MAKES 1 LARGE WREATH, SERVES 8–10
450g (3¼ cups) strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
30g (2 tbsp) caster (superfine) sugar
½ tsp fine sea salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
20g (¾oz) fresh yeast, or 10g (¹⁄₃oz) dried
180ml (¾ cup) tepid whole milk
200g (1 cup minus 1 tbsp) Quark
50g (3½ tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temp
1 tsp vanilla extract
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
50g (1¾oz) raisins
60g (2oz) glacé cherries, chopped
30g (1oz) flaked (slivered) almonds, roughly chopped
1 egg, beaten for the glaze
100g (¾ cup minus ½ tbsp) icing (confectioners’) sugar, sifted
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp water

To decorate
30g (1oz) glacé cherries, halved 30g (1oz) flaked (slivered) almonds, toasted

Put the flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon into a large bowl and mix with a wooden spoon. Crumble the yeast (or sprinkle if using dried) into the tepid milk and stir to dissolve. Pour the yeasted milk into the flour mixture, add the Quark, butter, vanilla extract and lemon zest and, using your hands, bring everything together into a rough
dough. Tip out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes until elastic. Form it into a ball and nestle it into the bowl. Cover with a tea towel and set aside in a warm spot to rise for an hour, or until considerably risen in size. (Alternatively, put the flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon into the bowl of a free-standing electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, pour in the yeasted milk, add the Quark, butter, lemon zest and vanilla extract and knead for 5–8 minutes until elastic. Cover and set aside, as above.)

Knock the dough back with your fist and add the raisins, glacé cherries and flaked almonds. Gently knead until evenly incorporated.

Roll the dough out on a floured surface into a 30cm/12in long sausage. Carefully lift the dough onto a large baking sheet lined with non-stick baking parchment and shape it into a wreath, taking care to stick the ends together to join.

Cover the wreath with a tea towel and let it rise in a warm spot for about 30 minutes, or until the dough has visibly grown by at least half its size again. Heat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/400°F.

Brush the top of the wreath with beaten egg and bake for about 25 minutes until rusty brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Once cool, mix the icing sugar, lemon juice and water together. Drizzle the glaze over the top and decorate with the cherries and almonds.

This is best served fresh the day it’s baked.

Cook more from this book
Christmas Stollen (Weihnachtsstollen) by Anja Dunk

Read the review 
Coming soon

Buy this book 
Advent: Festive German Bakes to Celebrate the Coming of Christmas
£25, Quadrille Publishing Ltd