Tag Archives: Christmas pudding

Three gluten free and dairy free Christmas desserts

In the run up to Christmas I have my annual date with the Portmeirion Food and Craft Fair . Now in its sixth year the market combines all that’s best of our local crafters, small businesses and food producers.

I have a love hate relationship with Christmas. I detest the corporate grasp, on what was once a pagan festival to mark the shortest day and a turning point as the light creeps back in. Even the Christian story is the antithesis of what Christmas has become. On the other hand I love a traditional family Christmas; I love small handmade presents, gifts with meaning and sentiment, carefully chosen or made. I love to make my own presents, food gifts wrapped in tissue and ribbon, bottles of home-made liqueur, chocolates and Christmas puddings and I love browsing the stalls of Christmas markets; eating mince pies and drinking mulled wine as Christmas carols drift along on the breeze.

My kids are now older; both wish for nothing more than hard cash towards a fight to India (the twenty-one year old) and a new drum kit (the fifteen year old). But I still take pleasure in getting them little presents to go along with this distinctly unromantic Christmas gift.

This was my fourth year presenting on the demo stage at Portmeirion. I tend to stick to dessert making as the stage is always heavy with meat offerings, so its nice to provide a contrast, something different that can be recreated at home. I’m also very aware that more and more people have special dietary requirements, myself included, so I concentrated on some tasty alternatives. On the menu this year was traditional Christmas pudding (but a quicker, Gluten free version), mulled wine oranges and fruit and nut dairy free chocolate fudge. The oranges are an awesome accompaniment to the Christmas pudding, on their own with dairy free ice cream (or normal ice cream) and the fudge is a great alternative to pudding if you end up too full to eat Christmas pudding, but want something sweet with coffee. The fudge also makes a great present for anyone avoiding dairy.

Let’s begin with the mulled wine oranges..

To serve four

  • 4 medium oranges
  • 190ml red wine
  • 40g caster sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 star anise
  • 3 allspice berries
  • 6 black peppercorns

Peel off 6-8 thin strips of zest from one of the oranges

Put the wine and sugar in a saucepan and heat gently, stirring, until the sugar dissolves.

Add the pared orange zest and remaining ingredients. Bring to a simmer, then bubble gently for about 10 minutes until the wine is reduced by about half and is lightly syrupy. Leave to cool completely.

Slice the peel and pith away from the remaining oranges. Slice the oranges horizontally into 3mm thick rounds, then put them in a large bowl along with any juice.

Pour the cooled mulled wine syrup over the orange slices. Cover and leave to macerate in the fridge for at least a few hours for the flavours to develop.

Take them out of the fridge half an hour or so before serving, to bring to room temperature. You could also warm them again gently. The oranges and their sweetly spicy liquor are delightful just as they are – but a little ginger biscuit or two on the side is rather good, as is ice cream, or use to pair with Christmas pudding.

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Easy Christmas pudding

175g gluten free plain flour

2 teaspoons mixed spice

1 teaspoon ginger

Half a teaspoon nutmeg

175g gluten free breadcrumbs

175g butter

175g brown sugar

850g mixed fruit

75g mixed peel

Rind and juice one orange

2 eggs

120ml gluten free brown ale

Mix the dried ingredients together (the first five on the list)

Rub in the butter until it resembles course breadcrumbs. It doesn’t have to be perfect)

Stir in the sugar

Add the fruit and stir to combine then mix in the wet ingredients (orange zest and juice, eggs and beer. I used a beer from Cwrw Ogwen, our local micro brewery, which I’m aware is not gluten-free. But there are several gluten-free ales now on the market that can be substituted).

Turn into a pudding basin (3 pint) and cover with greaseproof paper or a pudding cloth and foil

Steam for 6 hours topping the pan up with boiling water if it gets low

Cool, change the paper and store in a cool dry place. It will keep for months!

When ready to use steam for another 2 hours.

***For the speedy version: Make smaller puddings and use individual pudding basins then cook in the oven. Set the oven at 160 degrees/ gas mark 3. Fill a roasting tray with water and cover the puddings as above. Stand the bowls in the tray so the water comes half way up the sides. Cook for two and a half hours. Cool and rewrap as before. When you want to use them reheat in the same way, heat the oven to 180 degrees/gas mark 5 and reheat for 30 minutes.

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Dairy free Chocolate fudge

375g very dark chocolate (at least 75% cocoa solids)

1 can of full cream coconut milk

Icing sugar

(Chopped pecans / fruit soaked in rum or brandy/cinnamon/vanilla)

Break chocolate into a bowl

Heat sugar and coconut milk in a saucepan until just bubbling

Pour over the chocolate and stir briskly to melt

Add cinnamon or spices / vanilla (feel free to experiment!)

50g of fruit and 50g nuts (I used a berry and cheery mix soaked in rum overnight and chopped pecans but you can experiment with your favourites)

Turn in to a dish lined with greaseproof paper  and refrigerate. Cut into chunks and serve. Or package in neat little boxes and send as presents.

I couldn’t pay a visit to Portmeirion without adding to my photo collection, or getting fuelled up on Poblado coffee. It must be one of THE most photogenic places I’ve ever visited; even in the mud, rain, or on a cold dull Welsh winters day I see a new angle, a new view… a wander with the camera and a warm, smooth coffee from one of our best Welsh producers (they roast their own coffee) and my afternoon wound up perfectly.


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There’s nothing like home made Christmas pudding

The little un and me showing off our puddings

Everyone is talking about stir-up Sunday…that is, the last Sunday before Advent begins and the traditional day for making the families Christmas pud. I know we’ve just missed it but really it’s not too late. If you can manage it this weekend here is my traditional pudding recipe which I have used for years, well ever since I moved to Wales which is twenty odd years ago. It is a recipe I adapted from one found in a really old Sainsburys recipe book. My Mum’s from back in the 80’s I think.

Sift 175g (6oz) plain flour, 2 teaspoons ground mixed spice, 1 generous teaspoon cinnamon and half a teaspoon grated nutmeg into a large bowl. Mix in 175g (6oz) fresh brown breadcrumbs then rub in 175g (6oz) softened butter.

Stir in 175g (6oz) soft brown sugar, 350g (12oz) sultanas, 250g (8oz) raisins, the same amount of currants and 75g (3oz) mixed peel. Add the grated rind and juice of one orange, 2 beaten eggs and 120ml of brown ale (or stout). Give it a good mix, don’t forget to have a wish and then turn it into a greased 1.75litre (3 pint) pudding basin (or two smaller ones like we did). Cover with a pudding cloth or greaseproof paper and a sheet of foil pleated in the middle and tied on with string. Steam for 6 hours topping up the water as necessary.

Allow to cool and then replace the greaseproof paper and foil with fresh and store in a cool dry place. Christmas puddings can be made up to 4 months in advance and they tend to get better with time. Much better than anything from a supermarket I have to say.

When THAT day comes round and you are ready to eat your pudding, steam again for about 2 hours, turn out on to a warm dish, douse well with warm brandy and then ignite.


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The forgotten recipes of Christmas and new year

I promised so many people during the Christmas period that I would stick my recipes on the blog. Most of these promises were broken. I was so busy to-ing and fro-ing, trying to keep up with other work, making Christmas presents, preparing supper clubs and ferrying kids between their social dates, that sitting down and writing recipes on the blog fell by the wayside.

Now i shall make it up to all those people to whom I promised particular recipes, whilst adding a little bit about the origins of each recipe  as I go along.

Forgotten recipe number 1: Christmas pudding-for the very nice man on the Bangor to London train, whose name i didn’t get. I know it’s late, but maybe next year huh?

The littleun and me showing off our puddings

I have been making my Christmas puds this way ever since I moved to Wales, which will be 20 years ago this May. The recipe is slightly adapted from one which I found in an old Sainsburys recipe book.

Sift 175g (6oz) plain flour, 2 teaspoons ground mixed spice, 1 generous teaspoon cinnamon and half a teaspoon grated nutmeg into a large bowl. Mix in 175g (6oz) fresh brown breadcrumbs then rub in 175g (6oz) softened butter.

Stir in 175g (6oz) soft brown sugar, 350g (12oz) sultanas, 250g (8oz) raisins, the same amount of currants and 75g (3oz) mixed peel. Add the grated rind and juice of one orange, 2 beaten eggs and 120ml of brown ale (or stout). Give it a good mix, don’t forget to have a wish and then turn it into a greased 1.75litre (3 pint) pudding basin (or two smaller ones like we did). Cover with a pudding cloth or greaseproof paper and a sheet of foil pleated in the middle and tied on with string. Steam for 6 hours topping up the water as necessary.

Allow to cool and then replace the greaseproof paper and foil with fresh and store in a cool dry place. These can be made up to 4 months in advance and they get better with time. When you are ready to serve them, steam again for about 2 hours, turn out onto a warm dish, douse well with warm brandy and then ignite.

Christmas pud ablaze

Forgotten recipe number two: smoked salmon and sour cream blinis: for the can can girls who became addicted to blinis at our kids Christmas party

A couple of years ago I was given a book which contained cocktail recipes and snacks for cocktail parties. It came from NEXT of all places, but this blini recipe has been an overwhelming hit ever since I first gave it a go.

blinis in progress

Mix a 7g sachet of yeast and a pinch of sugar into 250ml of warm milk and leave to stand for a few minutes. Place 160g plain flour in a bowl (you could replace 60g with buckwheat flour for a slightly different taste) and make a well in the centre. Add 2 egg yolks (save the egg whites til later) and milk mixture and whisk until combined and smooth. Cover the bowl with a teatowel and leave to stand in a warm place for about 45 minutes.

Whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Melt 20g of butter and stir into proved mixture, season and then fold in one-third of the egg whites until just mixed. Fold in the remaining egg white gently until just combined.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan. When hot drop in a dessertspoonful of blini mixture to make a rough circle, this gets easier with practise, although I kind of like the free form appearance of each blini. Cook until bubbles begin to form on the surface then turn over. This should only take about 30 seconds each side and they should look light brown in colour. Drain on kitchen paper and leave to cool. The mixture should make about 40 blinis.

When they are cool put a dollop of sour cream on each and a strip of smoked salmon (which I got from Jody at the Llandudno smoakery www.llandudnosmokery.co.uk/home.php?/home ) top with a sprig of dill and if liked quarter of a teaspoon of salmon roe.

Forgotten recipe number 3: White chocolate nipples and chocolate truffles this is for everyone that said “oh my god, those truffles are gorgeous”….

This was the first year I attempted to make proper truffles with chocolate on the outside instead of icing sugar, cocoa or chocolate sprinkles (the cheats approach). It was also the first year I made white chocolate truffles. Both were very much trial and error. My first attempts ended up with a fine white coating on the chocolate. I needed advice, so I phoned a friend. She told me that my chocolate needed to be hot and then I had to make then very cold (i.e. put them in the fridge until set properly). Leaving them to cool at room temperature in our old, damp houses just meant that the condensation discoloured them. They still tasted nice though!!

My second attempt was better.

The White chocolate truffle recipe took me back to 1986. The place was Bishopstrow house in Wiltshire, an upmarket hotel where I went to do work experience whilst doing my chef training. Unfortunately I was distracted. It was a long hot summer, I was a wayward teenager and he was a hot young chef called Martin Zalensky. The encounter was brief and i have no idea where he is now, but his recipe has stood the test of time, to remind me of a heady misspent summer.

500g of white chocolate couverture, 175g double cream, 65g glucose, 75g butter.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. Bring the cream and glucose to the boil then add to the chocolate. Cool down a bit then beat in the whipped butter. When its cool and set scoop into balls….when I first did this back at Bishopstrow House, the summer was so hot i had to stand in the cold room because the chocolate melted too much.

Cover in melted chocolate couverture….I found this difficult i have to say. White chocolate doesn’t have as much cocoa solids as dark and it either got too hot and went powdery or was not hot enough. I tired mixing in alcohol, butter, you name it but the problem remained. If anyone has any tips I’d love to know!!!

home-made truffles

If there are any recipes I missed out, which I have promised please remind me and I will add them too

Denise xx

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A late Autumnal supper and a weekend of domestic goddessing

Unusual as it is for me to compare myself to a domestic goddess (usually I am more slummy mummy than yummy mummy), but this weekend I think I surpassed myself in the domesticity states….but not without the usual minor dramas that keep me on the edge.

 Not really a drama, in fact it was quite exciting, on Saturday morning we woke to find a fine coating of snow covering the hill; late Autumn supper had suddenly turned overnight to a full on winter supper. I guess it made a change from non-stop wind, rain and floods. I wondered for a second if I should be cooking something heartier for dinner than sorbet and salads, but I guessed the warm spiced wine and the roaring log fire would warm everyone up sufficiently. I was actually more concerned about bringing in the diners and had toyed with the idea of cancelling, but that was not something I really wanted to do.

hens in the remaining bit of snow









The dramas began when the other half rang to say he had a flat tyre. He’d only just gone to collect the veg having dragged himself out of bed at about 10. Not exactly on the same level of stress as me yet!

 He reported that John was currently looking for a foot pump. When asked where his foot pump was he informed me it was at home

 “Not much f**king good here is it?” I tactfully responded

 He took the hint and said he wouldn’t be calling me back unless he was desperate and he couldn’t get it pumped up.

 He hadn’t even been to collect the rest of the meat, the olives and the blue cheese yet!!! He’d pushed my little panic button, but this time thankfully all was well. The tyre stayed pumped up and he returned in record time with everything I needed without me having to berate him with hundreds of phone calls.

 I also started a waitress down. The usually lovely Rosie was pale-faced, snotty and snuffly and walked around droopily with her face buried in a hanky for much of the morning.  I initially banned her from interacting with the general public and serving them food, but as the day progressed and she became snottier by the minute I also decided she was far to lurgy ridden to go near food preparation too. She looked dejected “what am I supposed to do then?” she asked….I decided she could be the dedicated photographer for the night, a job which I barely ever manage to do as I’m far too busy.

Hobz and the other half









Ro and Hobz











I was also able to enlist the help of the equally glam Hobz, she is 2 years older than Ro but they have been friends a long time, they are climbing buddies and Hobz is like the big sister Ro never had. She seems to spend her life waitressing and food preparing at every given location in the Bangor area!! The little un was nowhere to be seen all night, happily ensconced in front of the Wii, he only ventured down the stairs for food, which once served he claimed he hated.

“I don’t like that, we have it at school, it’s horrible” he said. Wish I’d gone to the same school as him we all cried!!!

Table settings









The menu for the evening, designed and made by Rosie our waitress











Sadly we again didn’t have a full house but due to a last-minute booking and a couple of people who said they would come but refused to confirm, we set for eight. I’m pretty convinced that it’s down to money and the weather, but it doesn’t stop the hint of disappointment. To be honest I’d rather have a full house and less in the way of donations because it’s not just about the food, but meeting and entertaining new people, good conversation etc.  I’m also not going to bang on about those that say they will attend, but then don’t, obviously we still bought the food, but in the end it was us, the staff that enjoyed a damn good dinner between serving courses!!

 After chasing up bookings we eventually seated six people. One couple had been before but had returned this time with friends. It is such a lovely compliment to have diners returning again and again and to be able to serve them great food that they really appreciate. So may it continue!! One other couple attended but after the first two courses mysteriously disappeared into the night (nothing to do with us or the food I was assured). Well, we are a discrete bunch so will not enter into speculation on the reasons why, but I am very grateful to them for leaving a donation and I only hope that they return again in the future.

 With the extra help from Hobz we were motoring, tables set and prepared in record time (I know it was only for 8 but it still takes preparation). Also miraculously all the work surfaces stayed clear, the washing up disappeared promptly and the food was all ready without us even breaking into a sweat. With an extra pair of hands we were well and truly sorted. I tend to think that the ‘staff’ were a little underemployed at times on the night. I think this was apparent when one of our dinner guests ended up opening the door to our other guests because the ‘staff’ were so busy taking photos of each other in the kitchen, that they didn’t hear the knock on the door!!! The sackings may begin next month.

Sun dried tomato (front) and olive Foccacia









We started with spiced wine, home-made olive and sun-dried tomato Foccacia, with Organic Balsamic vinegar and Olive oil for dipping. This was followed by Butterbean, leek and parmesan soup (a Jamie Oliver recipe which I’d amended. It originally had chick peas in it but I thought butter beans worked better. Sorry Jamie but I think my dinner guests agreed).

big pot of butterbean, leek soup









I made triple the recipe given here (which is for 4). Remove the green ends of two medium leeks, cut in half and then slice finely. Put them into a colander and give them a good wash. Then sweat in a large covered saucepan with about a tablespoon of butter, two crushed cloves of garlic and a handful of fresh thyme leaves (stalks removed). When softened but not coloured chuck in 1 can of butter beans (or dried butter beans that have been soaked overnight and then boiled for 20 minutes, which is what I did) and 2 medium potatoes peeled and cubed. Pour over 565ml of chicken or vegetable stock (I made my own vege stock) and simmer for about half an hour or so until the potatoes are well-cooked. If the soup ends up too thick add a drop more boiling water. Season well and serve with a glug of good olive oil, an extra sprinkle of Thyme and plenty of shaved parmesan. I don’t reckon it needed anything else and although I offered a bit more Foccacia it was hearty enough on its own.

plating the soup











Leek, butterbean and parmesan soup









Next came the chicken wrapped in Pancetta, roasted with potato slices, cherry tomatoes and olives, served on a lemon dressed bitter leaf salad. The chicken was from Williams the butchers and was fantastic, juicy and succulent. The Pancetta was a bit of a revelation because I set Paul the task of finding me some that was locally produced (I didn’t think he would find any to be honest, but he definitely came up trumps). Yep he said there is someone in Wrexham that does it. Okay it’s not within 30 miles, but Wrexham is a lot closer than Italy (or London, or wherever the supermarkets get theirs). This is actually another Jamie Oliver recipe, its pretty simple to do and the secret is in the ingredients (good quality, fresh makes it i think).

 The chicken breasts were cut underneath the small fillet and filled with about a dessertspoonful of basil butter (just butter creamed with chopped fresh basil and a pinch of salt); they were then wrapped tightly with about six thin slices of pancetta. I used about 2lb pancetta for 10 breasts. I then peeled sliced and par boiled (for a minute or two) 2lb potatoes. They were then drained and tossed in a little olive oil, salt and pepper then spread out on the base of two roasting tins. I then stuck them in the oven (gas 7, 220 C. 425F) for around 10 minutes. While they were cooking I marinated three big handfuls of cherry tomatoes and the same of pitted black olives in more olive oil, salt and pepper. I then chucked them on top of the potatoes and placed the chicken on top of that. Returned to the oven they should then take about 20 minutes to cook. I think mine took longer than that, first because my oven is shit and second because it couldn’t cope with that much chicken to cook. No problem though it cooked beautifully in the end. The chicken was served on a bed of bitter leaf salad (amazing that Pippa and Jon still had some going) which had been tossed in a little olive oil and lemon juice.

cherry tomatoes and olives









chucking the tomatoes in with the potato slices











chicken wrapped in pancetta, placed on top of the toms and potato slices and ready to roast









plated chicken on bitter leaf salad











Now as you will have gathered from my previous posting, I was well impressed with my tarte tatin last week. So I decided to stop playing it safe and within the spirit of experimentation chose to be adventurous this week and make something I’d never made before for the first time on the night (I had intended to try it out prior to supper club but ran out of time). A stupid thing to do you may think, but it sounded nice and thought I would go for it. I was a little nervous I have to say and it could have gone either way. Nigella’s chocolate mousse cake sounded seriously decadent but her assertion that you had to ease off the foil slowly and carefully to avoid the cake sticking to it was enough to make me uneasy. Anyway, the cake was made, baked and left to cool completely (usually I’m too impatient and try to rip off foil or baking paper too soon, not this time). As I nervously came to remove the foil I tugged at a small corner with trepidation. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it came away without any cake, as did the rest of the foil. The cake was in my opinion, perfect (ha! I would say that of course). It was dark and sticky and oozy in the middle and lightly cooked and springy on the outside. With a damp knife it sliced easy and perfectly. I then served it with a dessert spoon of sharp crème fraiche and a small scoop of bitter orange sorbet (which I’d made at some time after midnight on Friday after finishing work at Hendre). It was an amazing combination and one which elicited lots of oohs and aaahhhhs (and that was just the staff!!). At one point I asked them to stop orgasming over dessert in the kitchen. They told me I was disgusting.

chocolate mousse cake, still in the foil









preparing dessert











Chocolate mousse cake with bitter orange sorbet and creme fraiche...Nigella would have been proud!









The night finished with coffee and cheese and as I sat down to chat in the dining room, god knows what they were up to in the kitchen (although I was offered photographic evidence of silliness, which involves the other half  acting the clown for the girls…I may use it as blackmail material first though……no sod it, you can have it now)

less said the better











Other half and I were also very grateful for the glasses of wine offered by our guests. Very much appreciated.

Now we are looking forward to two Christmas supper clubs on the 11th and 12th December, both of which will be far more manic than the last two November dates. With hindsight I have enjoyed the calm, before what will be the storm. With fewer guests we have been able to take it easy and chat, most of the clearing was done before Sunday and we were able to return to normality much quicker.

But of course instead of kicking back and putting my feet up on Sunday, I felt the domestic goddess urge fall upon me. Christmas puddings, marmalade, sewing and ironing awaited me. Since Rosie had retreated to her bed for the day and Hobz was doing a 10 hour shift in the local bakery I enlisted the help of the smallest person in the house. In fact this little man made the Christmas puddings all on his own!! I on the other hand embarked on marmalade making. These will make fantastic Christmas presents along with sloe gin, home-made truffles and chutney. Perfect if you want to give something non commercial or if you are a bit skint like me!!

Providing some respite from coffee bean grinding, the little un takes over the kitchen









Aidan's Christmas puds










It was a good thing that the other half had (at my request) bought far too many organic un-waxed oranges at great expense. I didn’t need them all for the sorbet and they don’t keep well but were perfect for marmalade making. I had to add my twist though and chucked in a bit of brandy when boiling and then another glug once the set was reached.

 So as the temperature dips (3 degrees it was this morning) and I finalize the menu for Christmas we shall all cosy up for a week…well that’s until next Saturday when I will be making and donating soup to the Bangor Free shop…but that’s another story

Denise x

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