Features & Stories

The ckbk guide to Christmas


It’s just a glorified roast dinner with a few extra trimmings, right? Well, yes, Christmas dinner is absolutely nothing to panic about, and it’s no secret that the key to pulling it all off with panache is preparation, preparation, preparation.

Josceline Dimbleby, in her 1978 classic Cooking for Christmas (part of a cookbook series from UK supermarket chain Sainsbury’s), reminds us how to have a stress-free Christmas – well, in terms of the cooking, anyway. She says: “More than any other meal, the Christmas dinner has to be planned step by step if you are going to remain calm: however disorganized a person you may be, you surely must write out a true plan of campaign for Christmas morning.” If you’ve not already started using it, the My Notes feature is a helpful record for future Christmases.

We’ve looked to some of the iconic Christmas books in our collection to bring together highlights on what Paul Levy (in his inimitable way) calls “our annual midwinter binge”. Levy’s enjoyable book The Feast of Christmas: Origins, Traditions and Recipes serves up an engrossing history about the roots of modern Christmas practices – turkey traditions, a history of Christmas pudding, and seasonal preserves to name a few.

There is so much fascinating history to be found on ckbk (The Official Downton Abbey Christmas Cookbook, we’re looking at you!), but this guide focuses on recipes and practical planning pointers to make the whole of the Christmas period run smoothly . We’ve pulled together the strands that make up a traditional British Christmas (Antipodeans need not feel left out – see our Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere collection) to bring you the ultimate ckbk guide to the festive break. Let the celebrations begin!

Salmon Blini Sours – the ideal canapé for fizz.

Christmas parties

Look no further than Yvette van Boven’s Homemade Christmas to help with party planning. Among her Christmas stress-relief tips is the sage advice to “accept help,” “be realistic,” and “make lists.” Yes. One neat tip we’d not come across before is her suggestion if you forget to chill your bubbles: “No worries: Tightly wrap the bottles in a damp dishcloth and put them in the freezer. Since the wet cloth will conduct the temperature faster than air, your bottle of champagne will be ice cold in less than 20 minutes. You can also place the bottle in a wine cooler filled with ice cubes and water to which you added a scoop of salt. Your bubbles will be nicely chilled in no time.”

Boris Basso Benelli’s Mulled Wine. Find more Festive Hot Drinks in our collection.

The ckbk Party Food collection features some stunning hand-me-around recipes – from Mini Pork Banh Mi to Herbed Garlic Knots to crunchy Rolled Pastry Cigars with Feta and Parsley. Choose from our selection of Festive Beverages and Festive Hot Drinks to get the party started. We love the Eggnog from Lisa Nieschlag and Lars Wentrup’s New York Christmas – in fact, take a peek at all 60 of the recipes. You won’t be disappointed.


Lulu Grimes’ Individual Christmas Cakes from The Cook’s Book of Everything.


Festive gifts

On the egg drink vibes, Yvette van Boven’s Advocaat would make an unusual Christmas gift. You will need to use a candy thermometer to get an exact temperature (no one wants a bottle of scrambled eggs for Christmas). The drink will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge.

Fiona Cairns (in Bake and Decorate) suggests Small Christmas Cakes to give as gifts to individuals living alone, or even as teachers’ presents, to gain, um, brownie points. You can mention that the recipe is by the baker who made the wedding cake for Prince William and Catherine Middleton’s wedding! There’s still time to make a batch of mincemeat (which is so much better when it’s homemade). Josceline Dimbleby’s version is made in the traditional way with beef suet. Either homemade or good-quality shop-bought mincemeat will be worthy of Yvette van Boven’s Mincemeat Fudge, another delicious present idea. 


Regula Ysewijn’s Mince Pies.

Lars Wentrup and Lisa Nieschlag’s Snowcaps.


Christmas baking

Whether you’re after Stained Glass Tree Decoration Biscuits, decadent and beautiful Snowcaps or nutty Christmas Macadamia Cookies, any of the recipes in our Christmas Cookies collection will be a surefire crowd-pleaser. Josceline Dimbleby’s Mince Pies de Luxe have been complimented by many, not least journalist and food critic Jay Rayner. The secret is orange zest in the pastry and the addition of cream cheese in the filling.

If you’ve missed the boat on making traditional Christmas Cake this year, no matter. Dundee Cake is a lighter option that can be made closer to Christmas – and it can be ‘fed’ with alcohol in a similar way to a traditional Christmas fruitcake. Try Regula Ysewijn’s version in which she dispels the myth that Mary Queen of Scots did not like glacé cherries and so a lighter cake was designed for her. Ysewijn tells us the Dundee cake was actually invented by marmalade inventor Janet Keiller at the end of the 18th century as a by-product of marmalade-making.


Lulu Grimes’ Stollen.


The Yule log continues to be a lighter alternative to fruitcake. It has quite a few steps and needs a bit of planning, but Cheryl Day and Griffith Day’s Festive Yule Log is an absolute beauty. Their cake is decorated with a natural look and taste, with sugared cranberries, rosemary sprigs, and pistachio “moss.” Josceline Dimbleby’s version uses ground hazelnuts to replace the flour, giving a lovely light finish, while Annie Gray’s Yule Log (pictured below) has a slug of dark rum added to the buttercream. Our Yuletide Treats from Around the Globe has even more ideas for baked treats at Christmas.


Annie Gray’s Yule Log.

Lars Wentrup and Lisa Nieschlag’s Chocolate Babka.


The main event

The jury is out about whether to stuff Christmas turkey the night before or not. Dimbleby says yes, stuff it early: “Prepare your turkey for roasting the day before. Stuff each end of the bird and rub lavishly all over with at least ¼lb butter or margarine. Wrap up in well-buttered foil and put in a roasting tin.” However, Paul Levy is skeptical: “Beware any recipe that tells you to stuff the bird the night before ‘to allow the flavours to develop.’” Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins’s recipe (helpfully entitled Our Favorite Way to Roast a Turkey) stuffs the turkey on the day of serving, with a halved orange and paprika added to the sausage stuffing. Whatever way works for you, have a meat thermometer handy and make sure the meat and stuffing are cooked to the correct internal temperature. Find more Festive Stuffing Recipes in another tasty ckbk collection.

Paul Levy suggests Gravlax as a starter (“nothing more than a pickled salmon”) and who are we to argue? For more inspiration, take a look at our Festive Sides collection to ring the changes this year. We also created a Festive Fowl collection for those having low-key Christmas events – these recipes are great for feeding smaller numbers. And if you don’t fancy a bird at all, Lisa Nieschlag and Lars Wentrup’s Glazed Pork Roast is a winner. For meat-free mains, bookmark our Vegetarian and Vegan Christmas Mains to Savor. One more bit of advice from Levy pre-Christmas day: “be sure your oven is working: it’s a good idea to use an oven thermometer to take its temperature every once in a while.”

Christmas pudding and alternatives

The Official Downton Abbey Christmas Cookbook stars a Christmas Pudding based on Regula Ysewijn’s research of historic British recipes. Ysewijn writes that it was traditionally called plum pudding as “the word ‘plum’ was understood as any dried fruit and was a common companion to roast beef on festive days.” Similar to Ysewijn’s recipe, Josceline Dimbleby’s The Best Christmas Pudding is made without sugar (Dimbleby doesn’t use flour either) and so is far lighter than other Christmas puddings. As an alternative to Christmas pud, take a look at Dimbleby’s Snowball Pudding or peruse two of our collections, Take Comfort in Chocolate and Christmas Desserts: Beyond Christmas Pudding. Happy times!

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