A Christmas compendium
With hordes of family and friends to entertain at Christmas, be it at mealtimes or midnight feasts, this assortment of sweet treats, cakes, puddings and pies is exactly what you need up your sleeve
Mum pointed to a cupboard where she’d stashed even more ‘emergency rations for just in case’
The yuletide cook has quite a lot of kitchen choreography to perform, over many days, to feed the descending hordes of family and friends. So having a great store of delicious things at the ready is a good idea. The wise cook needs all manner of ideas for treats up their sleeve – not just for mealtimes but also for snacks before midnight mass, at afternoon tea, for after-dinner movies …
Something I learned from my parents growing up is that conjuring as much theatrical jollity as can be is essential – the biggest show being, of course, a table laid with a lot of love.
One vivid memory is of a great table of polished oak in our dining room, piled high with oranges and clementines, Mum being notorious for panic-buying citrus fruits. Another is the huge array of my mother’s extraordinary baking for the Christmas hols, surrounded by Christmas lights and candles and all manner of festive thingummyjigs. Especially cakes – and lots of them. One year I counted seven, and pointed out to Mum that we were only a family of six. Mum pointed to a cupboard where tins with more biscuits and cakes were piled high, and then, laughing merrily, pointed to the freezer, where she’d stashed even more “emergency rations for just in case”.
These bakes were all so good. When thinking of 12 puddings for Christmas, I tried to think of all the great classics that many people might enjoy. At the outset of the festive season, Mum would plunder the bookshelves for all her favourite recipes, and the pile of books by Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson, Claudia Roden and many more remained, throughout December, by the stool Mum always sat upon at the counter in the kitchen. The list of books I consult now are pretty similar, and I’ve called on them all to compile this list.
An old favourite of Mum’s was a recipe by 80s TV chef Michael Smith. It was a great mincemeat meringue tart that began life as a “Royal Pye”. Mincemeat is sat upon frangipane topped with caramelised pears, then heaped with meringue and baked crisp – it makes as good a show as it does a pudding.
More recent delights come from the two women who produce the beautiful Canal House books: Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton – a special pair. They once invited me to Canal House for Thanksgiving and the two days I spent with them eating and drinking have become indelibly imprinted on my memory. Their Christmas recipes are as splendid as their Thanksgiving fare: I’ve homed in on their bûche de Noël and on their currant ginger cakes, to have with a fine cup of tea after a walk in the cold winter air. You could also add to your teatime array the delightful orange and fennel biscuits and the excellent chocolate orange tart below.
There are little pastries, too, to be kept in the freezer and pulled out at a moment’s notice to bake fresh and to scoff when a great film is starting on TV. I’ve included lovely ravioli San Giuseppe, which I first cooked at Alastair Little’s restaurant; clementine curd tarts (the curd for which you will want to make double quantities of, for decadent festive breakfasts); and little chocolate turnovers.
I have a great fondness for good dried fruits. Figs – particularly the very soft ones from Italy; prunes – those peerless glories from Agen in France; apricots in every form, all of which – when simmered and poached with pears in a spiced syrup – make for a restorative winter fruit salad.
And never forget the cook’s perk when the troops are out and a brief calm descends ... Yes, a slice of cake – in this instance, a spiced upside-down pear cake, to be enjoyed in a moment of quiet in the kitchen.
Lastly are the puddings: a chocolate trifle and a creme caramel – a soothing, cooling custardy respite from all the cakes and pies.
And there we have it: a dozen little ways to make merry the days of holiday, folk and family, at table and by the fireside – the merry 12 days of Christmas.
1 Little chocolate turnovers
These pastries are best served still warm from the oven, so make them on the day.
2 sheets frozen puff pastry Flour for rolling 125g dark chocolate (70% cocoa), broken into 16 pieces, roughly triangular in shape 200ml double cream Cream and caster sugar, to serve
1 Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6 and line a baking tray with parchment. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface. Cut the pastry into 16 6cm-wide squares.
2 Lay a triangle of chocolate just inside one of the corners of the pastry square. Brush the edges of the pastry with a little cream. Fold the pastry in half diagonally over the chocolate, making a triangular turnover. Repeat with the remaining squares and arrange the turnovers on the prepared baking tray at least 3cm apart.
3 Brush them with cream and put the tray in the fridge to rest for at least half an hour before baking.
4 Bake for about 5 minutes, then check the colour – if already golden, reduce to 180C or even 160C if the oven is of an enthusiastic nature, and bake for a further 5-7 minutes. They should be puffed and golden. Cool slightly. Serve with cream and caster sugar.
2 Mincemeat meringue tart
Should the spirit be willing, making mincemeat is a lovely job done early on in December – you could even make a large batch, and keep any leftovers for next year. Make the pastry the night before you need the tart, or, alternatively, up to a week before and freeze it. A visit to the supermarket for golden sugared almonds and candied mint leaves is always worthwhile to jolly along a Christmas pie. You will need a 23cm-round tart tin.
For the mincemeat 6 apples, braeburn, cox’s or similar Juice and zest of 1 lemon
Juice and zest of 1 orange
A 370g mix of currants, raisins, sultanas, dried figs and apricots, chopped into small pieces
75g marcona almonds, chopped finely 225g dark brown muscovado sugar 225g shredded suet
1 heaped tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground mace
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
A jigger of madeira
For the pastry
130g cold unsalted butter 250g plain flour, sifted 15g caster sugar 1 egg yolk 2 tbsp ice-cold water
For the frangipane
50g unsalted butter, softened
25g caster sugar 1 egg 50g ground almonds
For the pears
4 medium-size pears Juice of 1 lemon 50g caster sugar
For the meringue
4 large egg whites 250g caster sugar
To decorate (optional)
Golden sugared almonds Candied mint leaves
1 To make the mincemeat, peel and core the apples, cut them into small randomly shaped pieces and toss in the lemon and orange juice to avoid browning. Combine with the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Decant into a sealed container and keep until needed.
2 To make the pastry, cut the butter into small pieces and tip into a large bowl with the flour and sugar. Mix together to a fine crumb. Add the egg yolk and a little water. Gently work into a dough. Tip out on to a floured surface and knead gently until smooth. Form into a rough disc, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.
3 To make the frangipane, put the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat for a minute. Add the egg, beat again for a minute then stir in the ground almonds.
4 When ready to bake, roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface. Lift it up and swiftly drape the pastry on the tart tin, pressing gently until fitted snugly within. Refrigerate.
5 To prepare the pears, peel and core them, then chop into small randomly shaped pieces and toss in the lemon juice to avoid browning. Put a pan on a medium heat and add the sugar. Let the sugar begin to colour and start swirling the pan until the sugar has caramelised. Tip in the chopped pear dressed in the lemon juice. Take care as the sugar will sputter. Toss the chopped pear in the caramel and cook until it softens. Set aside to cool.
6 Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. To assemble the tart, roughly spread the frangipane on the bottom of the pastry case. Strew with the pears then heap on enough mincemeat to just fill the tart. Put this in the fridge to settle.
7 Put the tart in the preheated oven and cook for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 160C/325F/gas mark 3 for a further 50 minutes. Remove the tart from the oven and let it cool slightly on a rack. Lower the oven temperature to 120C/250F/gas low.
8 To make the meringue, in a clean bowl, whip the egg whites into stiff peaks. Beat in half of the sugar until stiff peaks appear once more. Repeat with the rest of the sugar. With bold strokes, heap the meringue on the tart, creating a riot of swirls.
9 Pop it back in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden and crusted, with a fissure here and there.
10 Decorate with golden sugared almonds and candied mint leaves, if using, and serve.
3 Creme caramel
Best made the day before you need it to give the dessert time to set sufficiently.
1 litre of milk
175g plus 2 tbsp caster sugar
1 vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped A strip of orange zest
3 whole eggs, plus 7 egg yolks
1 Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/gas mark 2. Have ready a ceramic or metal mould, roughly 28cm wide, 5cm deep.
2 Heat the milk in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the 2 tbsp sugar, the vanilla seeds and the strip of orange zest. Heat this gently until merely a wisp of steam rises from the surface.
3 In a large bowl, beat together the whole eggs, then add the egg yolks. Slowly pour the milk on to the eggs, stirring gently with a wooden spoon, keeping any froth to a minimum. Let it stand for while, then pour the warm custard through a fine sieve. Spoon away any foam sitting on the surface.
4 Put the 175g caster sugar into a stainless steel saucepan over a moderate heat and gently tilt the pan to keep the sugar on the move as it liquefies and turns to caramel. You want a rich mahogany hue; any darker and a bitter note will be introduced. Swiftly pour the caramel into the mould. Holding the mould with a cloth in each hand, and exercising great care, cautiously swirl the caramel
Should the spirit be willing, making mincemeat is a lovely job done early in December
around the bottom of the mould until it is evenly covered. Let this set, which will happen swiftly.
5 Put the mould in a deep oven tray. Pour the custard into the mould then put the tray in the middle of the oven. Pour enough hot water into the tray to bring the level up to a few centimetres short of the surface of the custard.
6 Bake at 150C/300F/gas mark 2 for 5 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 120C/250F/gas low for 50-60 minutes, turning occasionally for even cooking. Check every 10 minutes or so to ensure there is no colouring or simmering water to cause bubbles in the custard. Test that it’s done by inserting a sharp knife into the middle – it should come out clean. A little wobble is good. With the utmost caution, remove the tray from the oven and let the custard sit for 10 minutes. Remove the mould from the tray, let it cool, then refrigerate – overnight is best.
7 To serve, gently press down around the edge of the custard, then run a sharp knife around it. Put a deep plate on top of the mould, and in one fluid motion, swiftly flip the creme caramel. Wait for the plop, shaking a little if necessary before lifting the mould.
4 Orange and fennel biscuits
These can be stored – though it has never been tested, as they have always been scoffed before the day was out.
Makes about 30
230g butter, at room temperature 50g caster sugar 1 vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped 1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk Zest of 1 large orange 2 tsp fennel seeds, 1 tsp ground and 1 tsp coarsely chopped 260g “00” or plain flour, sifted 2 tsp sea salt
1 Put the butter, sugar and vanilla seeds into a bowl and beat thoroughly until pale and fluffy.
2 Beat the egg and egg yolk in a small bowl, then slowly add these to the butter and sugar. Add the orange zest, ground fennel seeds and flour, beating it all together swiftly until smooth until a dough is formed.
3 Cut the dough into three pieces and put each on a piece of baking parchment. Roll the paper up and then twist each end tightly as for a Christmas cracker. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. The dough will keep for a few days if need be, and freezes well too.
4 Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/ gas mark 4. Line a baking tray with parchment.
5 Unravel the cracker and sit the roll of dough on a board. Cut slices the thickness of a pencil and lay in rows, quite well apart, on the baking parchment. Put a tiny heap of chopped fennel seeds in the middle of each biscuit. Press down slightly.
6 Bake for 10 minutes. The tray may need turning to ensure even cooking. Remove from the oven and cool.
5 Clementine curd tarts
Both the pastry and the curd keep well in the fridge for a few days. The former can also be made the week before and frozen, while making a double portion of the curd will give you enough for a breakfast treat over the holidays. The tarts themselves, though, are best cooked fresh.
Makes 20-24 For the pastry
500g plain white flour 100g icing sugar
A pinch of salt
300g cold unsalted butter 1 egg, plus 2 egg yolks 1 tbsp ice-cold water
For the curd
2 large eggs 180g caster sugar Juice and zest of 6 clementines Juice and zest of 2 small lemons 115g unsalted butter
Jersey cream 24 whole almonds, blanched, peeled and roasted
1 To make the pastry, sift the flour, icing sugar and salt into a bowl. Cut the butter into small pieces and swiftly work it into the flour mix until a fine crumb results. Beat the egg and egg yolks together with the ice-cold water and add to the crumb. Mix together until a dough forms.
2 Tip the dough on to a surface and gently knead until smooth. Roll the pastry into a ball. Cut the ball in two and flatten each piece into a rough disc. Wrap each disc in clingfilm and refrigerate.
3 To make the curd, half-fill a pan with water and bring to the boil.
4 Crack the eggs into a bowl, beat in the sugar, add the zest of the clementines and lemons and mix together well. Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the bowl, then mix in the juices.
5 Place the bowl over the pan, making sure it doesn’t touch the water and reduce to a simmer. Stir the mixture until the butter melts then keep stirring as the curd thickens. Cook this for about 20 minutes. The curd should be quite thick but not so a spoon can stand up in it. Once done, tip the curd into a clean bowl, cover and cool. Refrigerate until required. 6 Roll out one of the rounds of pastry thinly on a lightly floured board. Cut out discs of the pastry to fit each one of the moulds in a muffin tin. Continue until you have 20-24 tart cases. Refrigerate.
7 Cut out little discs of baking parchment and line each pastry case. Fill each with beans or rice – something sturdy enough to keep them from rising. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. With care, remove the filled paper discs. Return the tin to the oven and cook for a further minute. Remove and cool.
8 Arrange the tart cases on a large serving plate or tray. Fill the tarts half way with the curd. Add little blobs of jersey cream. Sit a whole roast almond on top.
6 Currant ginger cakes
These wonderful biscuits are from Canal House. This recipe will make plenty, and there may be some dough left over for freezing.
Makes about 30
570g plain white flour
4 tsp bicarbonate of soda 2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves 335g unsalted butter 335g granulated sugar 250g dark muscovado sugar 2 eggs
1 Preheat the oven 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Line two oven trays with baking parchment.
2 Put a sieve over a large mixing bowl. Into this tip the flour, bicarbonate of soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon and cloves.
3 Put the butter, 200g each of the granulated sugar and the muscovado sugar in another bowl. Beat together until pale and voluminous.
4 Beat the eggs in a small bowl and slowly add to the sugar mix a little at a time. Gently add the molasses and beat until smooth. Swiftly beat in the spiced flour, stirring well, then add the currants in one final thorough mix.
5 Roll the dough into a rough ball, cover and refrigerate for at least half an hour, or even better, overnight.
6 Put the remaining granulated and muscovado sugars in a bowl. Break off walnut-size pieces of dough and roll into balls. Roll the balls in the sugars.
7 Put the balls 2-3cm apart on the baking sheet. Bake until cracked on top and browned on the bottom – about 8-10 minutes. Cool the cookies on a rack before serving.
These biscuits can be stored – though it has never been tested, as they have always been scoffed before the day was out
7 Chocolate, ginger and orange tart
You will need a 23cm-round tart tin for this.
80ml 175g double milk cream 250g dark chocolate (70% cocoa) 1 large egg, beaten Zest of 1 orange 6 pieces of crystallised ginger in syrup Jersey cream, to serve
For the pastry
130g cold unsalted butter 250g plain flour, sifted 15g caster sugar 1 egg yolk 2 tbsp ice-cold water
1 Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Meanwhile, make the pastry. Cut the butter into small pieces and tip into a large bowl with the flour and the caster sugar. Work into a fine crumb. Mix the egg yolk with the water in a small bowl, then add a little at a time to the flour. Gently work into a dough. Tip the dough out on to a lightly floured surface and knead gently until smooth. Form into a disc, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.
2 Roll out the dough and place it over the tart tin to line it, trimming the edges. Cover with baking parchment and fill with beans or rice. Put the pastry case in the oven and lower the temperature to 160C/325F/gas mark 3 and bake until golden brown – roughly 10-20 minutes, to colour the pastry. Remove from the oven and lift out the parchment with the beans or rice. Return the pastry case to the oven for a few minutes.
3 Put the milk and cream in a pot and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat. Break the chocolate into the cream and stir until fully melted. Let this cool slightly, then beat in the egg and stir until smooth.
4 Add the orange zest to the chocolate cream. Chop the ginger into very small pieces and mix half into the chocolate cream. Pour the filling into the pastry case. Bake the tart until it is barely set, with a wobble still at the centre – about 12-15 minutes. Keep a beady eye on this, moving the tart round so it cooks evenly. Remove from the oven and let it cool.
5 When the tart is cooled, gently add the tiny shards of remaining ginger around the edge of the tart. Serve with jersey cream.
8 Spiced upside-down pear cake
This performs mightily well as a pudding, and makes excellent emergency rations for a quick sugar fix.
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
3 ripe pears
85g unsalted butter
50g dark muscovado sugar
2 pinches of salt
125g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground mace
½ tsp ground allspice
125ml whole milk
160g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped 5 pieces of crystallised ginger, sliced Cream, ice-cream and custard, to serve
1 Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Line a 23cm cake tin with greaseproof paper.
2 Put the lemon juice into a large bowl. Peel the pears, halve or quarter them if on the large size, core them and toss in the lemon juice.
3 In a small pan, melt 40g of the butter. Add the muscovado sugar and a pinch of salt. Mix this well and spread evenly over the bottom of the lined cake tin.
4 Arrange the pear halves, cut side up, tips facing towards the centre, in the sugar on the bottom of the cake tin.
Reserve the lemon juice for later.
5 Sift together the flour, baking powder, spices and a pinch of salt.
6 In a small pan, bring the milk to a near boil over a medium heat. Add the remaining butter, let it melt in the milk and keep it warm.
7 Beat the eggs in a bowl until pale and voluminous. Add the caster sugar and vanilla seeds, beating vigorously. Blend in the flour mixture, then stir in the warm milk and butter. Add the lemon zest and juice, the sliced ginger and any syrup adhering, and mix. Pour the cake batter over the pears.
8 Bake for 40-45 minutes until golden, checking if the cake is done by inserting a skewer or a sharp knife.
9 Serve warm with cream, ice-cream and custard too, if at hand.
9 Ravioli san giuseppe
This filling is good made several days in advance.
Makes about 20 For the dough 440g “00” grade plain flour 260g cold unsalted butter Zest of 1 lemon (reserve the juice for the filling)
½ vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped 100g caster sugar
For the filling
300g peeled and cored apple, tossed in the juice of the lemon
150g caster sugar
300g dates, stoned
250g agen prunes, stoned
60g pine nuts
Sugar, for dusting Cream, ice-cream, custard
1 To make the pastry, sift the flour into a bowl. Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the flour. Add the lemon zest and the vanilla and mix until it is rendered into a fine crumb. Add the sugar. Beat the eggs, add to the crumb and mix until it forms a dough. Tip out on to a work surface and knead lightly until a smooth dough forms. Roll into a ball, cover and refrigerate. This keeps well for several days.
2 To make the filling, chop the peeled, cored apples into small pieces. Put these, the sugar and 100ml water in a pan and cook gently over a moderate heat until the apple is coloured a pale caramel. Chop the dates and prunes finely then add to the apples, along with the pine nuts and currants. Cook these together over a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool.
3 To assemble, roll out the pastry on a lightly floured board. Cut out discs about 5cm in diameter. Put 1 small tsp fruit mix in the centre of each one. With care, fold each disc over and gently press down along the edges to seal in the filling to form the ravioli. Continue until all are done. Put the ravioli on a tray and put in the fridge to cool. They can be covered and will keep well overnight.
4 Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/ gas mark 4. Arrange the ravioli a few centimetres apart on a baking tray and put in the oven. After 4-5 minutes, remove the tray, flip the ravioli and return to the oven to colour lightly on the other side for 2 minutes. Remove from the oven. Arrange on a serving dish, perhaps dusted lightly with sugar. Cream, ice-cream or custard are all welcome, or all three together … just a thought.
It performs well as a pudding and makes excellent emergency rations for a quick sugar fix
10 Chocolate trifle
In homage to Antonio Carluccio, the author of this impressive pick-me-up.
Serves 12-15 For the cake
90g dark chocolate (70% cocoa) 2 tbsp espresso coffee
60g unsalted butter, softened 3 eggs, separated
50g plus 1 tbsp caster sugar A pinch of salt
50g plain flour, sifted
For the cream
2 eggs, separated 50g plus 1 tsp caster sugar 400g mascarpone 80ml double cream
400ml espresso coffee 4 tbsp cognac Bitter cocoa powder 125g dark chocolate (70% cocoa)
1 Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Line a 23cm cake tin with baking parchment.
2 Set a pan of water to boil. Break the chocolate into a bowl and add the coffee. Sit the bowl on the pan, making sure it doesn’t touch the water. Lower to a simmer and melt the chocolate. Remove from the heat. Beat in the butter a little at a time until smooth.
3 Put the egg yolks in a bowl with the 50g sugar and beat until pale and fluffy.
4 Put the egg whites in another bowl, add a pinch of salt and beat until peaked. Add the 1 tbsp sugar and return the whites to a peak.
5 Mix together the egg yolk and the chocolate mixtures. Spoon a third of the egg whites into the chocolate and mix lightly but well. Fold in another third of the egg white, add half the flour and mix. Add the remaining egg white and flour and mix thoroughly.
6 Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for about 30 minutes. Cool on a rack.
7 Meanwhile, make the cream. Beat the egg yolks and the 50g sugar in a bowl until pale and fluffy. Add the mascarpone a spoon at a time until smooth. Stir in the cream. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until peaked, add the 1 tsp of sugar, then fold this into the cream.
8 To assemble, cover the bottom of a trifle bowl with slices of the chocolate cake. Spoon over the coffee then the cognac. Dust with a little sifted cocoa powder. Strew with the broken chocolate. Tip in the cream and smooth the surface. Dust with more cocoa. Cover and refrigerate overnight. When serving, the trifle may need an extra flourish of freshly sifted cocoa.
11 A winter’s poached fruit salad
The resulting syrup from this salad is good chilled and added to champagne for a rather cavalier version of a pousse rapière. It is worth making a day or two in advance to allow all the flavours to mingle.
1 lemon 6 pears 200ml white wine 200g caster sugar 1 vanilla pod 2 bay leaves 10 black peppercorns A blade of mace 12 plump agen prunes, stones in 12 dried apricots, unsulphurised 12 dried figs Jersey cream or Greek yoghurt, to serve
1 Peel strips off the lemon as for a martini, then squeeze the juice into a bowl. Peel the pears and toss them in the lemon juice.
2 Put 30ml water and the wine, sugar, vanilla pod, bay, peppercorns and mace into a pan. Bring to a boil on a high heat. Add the pears, lemon juice and peel.
3 Cut a disc of baking parchment to fit the pot and lay on the surface to ensure the pears are submerged. A plate on top might help. Lower the heat to a simmer and poach the pears gently until quite cooked through. The time will depend on the ripeness of the pears and may take 30-50 minutes. The pears are done when a knife inserted is given no resistance from the pears.
4 Add the prunes, apricots and figs, bring back to the boil for 30 seconds then remove the pan from the heat and let the fruit steep while it cools.
5 Once cooled, gently remove the poached fruits to a serving bowl and pour over the syrup unstrained.
6 Store in a cool place until ready to serve with cream or Greek yoghurt.
12 Bûche de Noël (on the cover)
This really is better made at home. And it’s useful to have a sugar thermometer when making it.
Serves 14-16 For the chocolate icing
300g dark chocolate (70% cocoa) 120g unsalted butter 150ml double cream
For the roulade
400g dark chocolate (70% cocoa) 480ml double cream Half a vanilla pod, seeds scraped ¼ tsp ground cinnamon 9 egg whites 2 tbsp caster sugar
For the filling
200g dark chocolate (70% cocoa) 5 tbsp water
6 egg yolks
3 tbsp caster sugar
325g unsalted butter, softened Jersey or whipped cream, to serve
1 To make the icing, bring a small pan of water to the boil. Put the chocolate and butter together in a bowl and put it over the pan making sure it doesn’t touch the water. Reduce to a simmer, and let the chocolate and butter melt, whisking often. Remove from the heat. Whisk in the double cream and cover with clingfilm. Stab the film a few times with a knife to let out any residual warmth. Leave to one side.
2 Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4 and line a large oven tray with baking parchment.
3 To make the roulade, break the chocolate into a large bowl. Heat the cream in a heavy-bottomed pan until hot, and stir in the vanilla seeds and the cinnamon. Pour the cream on to the chocolate and whisk until smooth. Set aside to cool.
4 Put the egg whites in a bowl, add the caster sugar and beat until peaked. Add the egg whites to the chocolate in three stages, each time mixing well. Tip the batter on to the baking parchment and spread it out. Bake for 10 minutes or so until a knife inserted comes out clean.
5 For the filling, put a pan of water on to boil. Put the chocolate and 2 tbsp water into a bowl, set it over the pan making sure it doesn’t touch the water. Lower the heat to a simmer. Stir until the chocolate has melted. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
6 Put the sugar and 3 tbsp water into a pan over a medium heat. Swirl the pan allowing the sugar to dissolve. Let it boil for 4-5 minutes until just before becoming caramel – or when it reaches 236C/455F, if using a sugar thermometer. Remove from the heat.
7 Whisk the egg yolks on a low speed, gently adding the syrup until the mixture cools. Add a slice of butter at a time, beating thoroughly all the while. Carry on beating until thickened and smooth. Stir in the cooled chocolate and put to one side.
8 To assemble, carefully lift the cake with the baking parchment to a flat surface. Spread the filling evenly over the cake. Using the paper, roll the cake, pulling away the paper as you go until the roll is complete and the paper can be lifted away entirely. Lift the cake with great care on to a serving plate. Don’t worry about cracks.
9 Apply the icing in uneven markings evoking bark … rough and ready. If you’re inclined, add a little tree and a little festive figurine on top.
If you’re inclined, you can add a little tree or a festive figurine on top of your bûche de Noël