That quote is from Oscar Wilde by the way, a man after my own bitter introverted heart. If you’re cooking for a crowd, for yourself or bringing something to a party then why not try one of these literary-inspired recipes inspired by wintery tomes.
ONE- Christmas Pudding, from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
“Hallo! A great deal of steam! The pudding was out of the copper … That was the pudding. In half a minute Mrs Cratchit entered: flushed, but smiling proudly: with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.”
Let’s open with a real classic; for better or worse, Christmas pudding has been a mainstay of the English holiday table for hundreds of years. Charles Dickens’ holiday classic A Christmas Carol uses food to weave images of family unity and defiant joy in the face of hardship into a story that pleads for compassion and kindness for your fellow man. It’s not the easiest thing to make, but as Dickens himself knew, it’s a really spectacular centrepiece if you can pull it off.
I’ll provide a loose idea below, but if you’re looking for a top recipe, then why not try this Nigella ‘Ultimate Christmas Pudding’?
Ingredients: Mixed sultanas, currants and raisins; mixed dried fruits; sherry; brandy; suet; dark brown sugar; cloves; flour; eggs; lemon; apples; honey.
Steep the fruit in the alcohol and leave to steep for as long as you can (about a week is good). Mix all of the rest of the ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the boozy fruits. Boil a large pan of water, butter up your pudding tin and prepare to steam the pudding. If you’re adding the usual silver coins, then please cola-clean them first and warn your guests about the choking hazard. Steam it for around five hours (for big puddings) and foil up for Christmas day. On the day, steam it for another three hours. Remove it from the tin and serve with brandy butter, or an eggnog cream, or cover it in brandy and light it on fire. Just enjoy it.
TWO- Homemade Fudge, from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K.Rowling
“Harry had torn open the parcel to find a thick, hand-knitted sweater in emerald green and a large box of homemade fudge.
“Every year she makes us a sweater,” said Ron, unwrapping his own, “and mine’s always maroon.”
“That’s really nice of her,” said Harry, trying the fudge, which was very tasty.”
This is a great recipe for gifts, especially if you’re looking to get children to help you, because fudge is always incredibly easy to make. Mrs Weasley is a busy Christmas baker, so if you want to keep it simple then try this recipe for plain vanilla fudge. If you’re looking for something a bit more festive, then try the recipe below for chocolate fudge, with an option to add your own personalised toppings.
Ingredients: 400g dark/milk chocolate; 400g condensed milk; 25g butter; 100g icing sugar; mystery topping (e.g. chopped nuts, crushed candy canes, white chocolate curls).
Break up the chocolate and melt it in a bain-marie (a bowl over a pan of bowling water) with the condensed milk and butter- do this slowly, until the mixture is smooth and free of lumps. Sieve in the icing sugar and mix thoroughly (preferably with a whisk). Press the mixture into the tin, and if you’re adding toppings then sprinkle them on top now. Chill this in the fridge for about an hour (until set) then cut into pieces. Store it in an air-tight container in the fridge for two weeks.
THREE- Victorian Sugar-Plums, from A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore
“The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap”
Yes, that’s the familiar and soothing pattern of Twas the Night before Christmas you read- is there anything better on Christmas Eve? Maybe you could share it with family or friends by reading it aloud and passing around a few of your own homemade sugar-plums. This Victorian recipe uses real plums and suggests that you could actually use them as baubles to hang on your tree first.
Ingredients: 1kg white sugar; 1 large case of preserved plums in syrup.
Strain the plums until the syrup is mostly gone. Pit the plums and dispose of the stones. Pour some of the white sugar (you don’t need all at once) into a large bowl. Roll the sticky plums in the sugar until thoroughly coated and set aside for thirty minutes. Re-roll the plums in the sugar again and put them on a baking tray, spaced out evenly. Turn your oven on to its lowest heat setting and bake for two hours. Take them out of the oven; re-roll them in fresh sugar and bake for another 2 hours. You should do this process six times in total. By this point the plums will be quite dried out and the sugar crispy and fine. You can thread string through them to hang as decorations, or package up to make a refined gift.
FOUR- Stove-Top Cocoa, from The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
“We drank hot chocolate as thick and rich as melted chocolate bars.”
The only way to get hot chocolate that’s thick like melted chocolate is to actually use melted chocolate. So get out your saucepans and some good quality chocolate because this is a Christmas treat worth the extra effort. You can spice things up with some extra cinnamon, add a candy cane for a peppermint twist, or pop in a little tot of brandy or rum to make it even more warming. For kids, pile on the marshmallows and cream so they know just how special hot cocoa in winter can be.
Ingredients: 600ml milk; a pot of double cream (around 140ml); 100g chopped chocolate
Adjust the type of chocolate depending on the taste you are looking for- kids usually prefer milk chocolate, whereas a good quality strong dark chocolate can make a decadent treat. Pour the ingredients into a small, heavy-based saucepan. Bring gently to the boil and whisk until smooth. Serve immediately in individual cups, and add any extras you desire. If you save a little grated chocolate, you can sprinkle it on top for an extra melty treat.
FIVE- Gingerbread House, from Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm
“Nibble, nibble, little mouse,
Who is nibbling at my house?”
“It is not I; it is not I–
It is the wind, the child of the sky.”
Gingerbread houses can be incredibly fussy, but if you’re looking to impress a crowd a Christmas then this is definitely a fool proof way to do it. Recipes for gingerbread can be hundreds of years old- during the seventeenth century making and shaping gingerbread was such a respected and sought-after trade that, in many European countries, gingerbread bakers received special legal consideration. Gingerbread moulding became a highly respected craft, and these special biscuits became ubiquitous at holiday times. At Christmas specifically, German bakers often constructed fairy-tale houses out of lebkuchen, which are amazing gingerbread and chocolate biscuits.
There are a few recipes for gingerbread houses online which include templates- you could try any from the list below. I’m going to give you a little recipe for lebkuchen as I know it, which is in round cakey-discs and smothered in dark chocolate.
Ingredients: 100g honey; 100g treacle; 175g dark brown soft sugar; 1 egg; 350g plain flour; 1 tbsp lemon juice and zest; 1 tsp cinnamon; 1 tsp ground cloves; 1 tsp allspice; 1 tsp ground nutmeg; 30g finely chopped hazelnuts; bar of good dark chocolate.
In a medium-sized saucepan heat the honey and treacle together. When it reaches boiling point, take it off the heat and stir in the sugar, egg and lemon. In a large bowl mix the spices and flour. Pour in the hot treacle/honey and mix well. Stir in the hazelnuts. Cover the dough and leave to chill overnight. The next day, preheat the oven and roll out the dough on a floured surface. Cut into pieces (rectangles or circles) and put onto a greased baking tray. Bake for 10 minutes, or until firm, and cool. Melt chocolate in a bain-marie and dip the curved side of the biscuits into the bowl. Place back on the cooling rack, flat side down, and let the chocolate set.
Recipes for houses:
BBC Food – Simple Gingerbread House (with template)
Mary Berry – Gingerbread House (with template)
Australian Good Taste – Gingerbread House (with template).
If this post has piqued your interest, then why not check out the original literary-inspired recipes here? There’s Turkish Delight from Narnia and plenty of other sweet treats to try out for the holidays (and afterwards). If you have any suggestions or feedback, then leave a comment below or look through social media/email options on the contacts page.