Hosting Christmas this year? Mary Berry is on hand to ensure your day is a memorable one.
From dressing the table to sharing definitive tried-and-tested recipes, perfected over 50 years, the 87-year-old star serves up tips and tricks aplenty in her brand-new BBC One special, Mary Berry’s Ultimate Christmas.
Her goal: to inspire fellow home cooks to plan (“planning is key!”) and execute a delicious festive feast of their own.
“It goes without saying that Christmas is a very special time of year, but over the last couple of years it has become challenging for us all…” begins Berry. “Whether it’s the emotional hardship of lost loved ones, the economic hardship of cooking for large families or a combination of both.
“In this special, I bring together everything you need, with tips to make it a festive day to remember fondly.”
First up there’s her own seasonal menu: a mouth-watering combination of stilton and sage mini scone canapes, traditional Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, followed by Christmas pudding and a festive trifle.
Then, among a festive cocktail or two, there’s checking in with friends like Rylan Clark, with whom Berry visits a PYO vegetable farm in pursuit of sprouts; chef Angela Hartnett, who cooks up a rich pumpkin ricotta tortelli in a nod to her Italian roots (“It is a tradition for her family to have this dish before the roast turkey; she used to make hundreds of them with her Nonna – they’re delicious”) and Monica Galetti, who prepares a twist on Samoan palusami with smoked haddock, cavolo nero and sourdough (“Almost like a fish pie without the topping – I am definitely going to be making it”).
“You’ll learn how to prepare your Christmas Day meal – and I’ll be holding your hand all the way,” says Berry. “Organisation and preparation is key. My first tip is to sit down with a piece of paper and think about who’s coming for Christmas. ‘Have I got to do any specific meals – like vegetarian?’
“Then, start the shopping list and plan when you’re going to prep things and what you’re going to do. A lot of people don’t realise you can do roast potatoes in advance, for example, but I’ve always done that. It saves lots of time on the day.”
Opting for canapes over a traditional starter is a great idea, according to Berry. “If you do a first course, everybody is sitting down and you – as the cook – have to heat the gravy up and turn the potatoes up again, so you miss the starter. Whereas, if you sit straight down for the meal, you do all the last-minute cooking and then you serve it. There is no going back into the kitchen in the middle of courses.”
Rylan is not a fan of sprouts, hence the farm visit. “I wanted to change his mind, so I took him into a sprout field and, as viewers will see, he was quite bewildered at the sprouts and how to gather them. But he got the hang of it in the end.
“Then I decided that if I put the sprouts with other things, he would love them. I added lots of butter, cashew nuts and peas, and they were beautiful. He loved them. And then to put it to the test, we gave the recipe to some children and there was only one child that did not eat it.”
If you missed Stir Up Sunday, you needn’t worry. Berry makes her Christmas pudding a week before Christmas and insists it’s just as good.
“It is well balanced, very classic, has nuts, a lot of fruit and a bit of brandy too. I share tips I have learned over the years, like how to use a bit of foil to help lower your pudding into the water; how to use a well-buttered piece of foil to help turn out your pudding; and how to use an old jam lid to keep the pudding off the bottom of the saucepan.”
And Berry’s most surprising Christmas hack is using a can of tinned custard in her trifle: “It’s the best type of custard for trifle making, and then I make it more luxurious by putting whipped cream in it. But this recipe won’t break the bank; you can use some leftover pear juice and berries to make the trifle – or orange juice. Angela, Monica and Rylan loved it, and Rylan said he is definitely going to make it with his mum. He also took the whole trifle home!”
This year, Berry will be cooking the turkey to perfection, the gravy, and the trifle, and then taking it to her daughter, Annabel, who’s hosting 22 for Christmas.
“My message for Christmas is to not overcook the turkey and to sit down as soon as possible to make your plans. It’s all about preparing ahead to take the stress out. And if people want to help, find a job for them to do.”
Mary Berry’s Ultimate Christmas airs on BBC One on Monday, December 19