She’s the firm but fair baking queen who isn’t impressed by shop-bought fondant icing or binned Baked Alaska, but Mary Berry insists her loved ones won’t be nervous when they present her with their own home-made offerings this Christmas.
“As a family, we all get together. Usually, I host it, and various members of the family bring a pudding, or they help me on Christmas morning or bring a batch of shortbread – even though I’m a cook, they love to bring their own things to share,” she says in that warm but no-nonsense voice, now so familiar thanks to the mammoth success of The Great British Bake Off.
Aren’t her relatives and friends worried she’ll shoot them that disappointed look if they’re cooking’s not up to scratch – you know, the one she reserves for underproofed bread or shoddily presented pies on the hit TV show?
“Good friends who I’ve known for a long time, they’re never nervous,” insists the judge. “We often go around to friends’ places for supper. They often say, ‘This is my mother’s recipe, you might want to share it with your readers’, or whatever. Our friends are very generous.”
Bath-born Berry, who lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband Paul, is well-versed when it comes to avoiding festive hosting headaches.
“I think it’s a good idea to get organised and know what you’re up to,” she says. “The first thing is to rally your family and find out where you are for Christmas, and how many there are. Then you can start to buy some of your heavier things like tinned goods, and order your turkey.
“A big sheet of paper of what you plan does help. And then you can do some dishes you can freeze – you may choose to make something you can have after Christmas.” When it comes to turkey, Berry recommends “the best you can afford”, and she’ll also rustle up different stuffings, mince pies and Christmas pudding – although, she notes: “I nearly always
find people nowadays don’t choose to have Christmas pudding; they choose to have the lovely fruit salad with lots of exotic fruits in it, because they’re quite full by the end of the meal.”
The 81-year-old has plenty of little helpers at Christmas, in the form of her five grandchildren: “They really do help, they’re jolly good.”
MARY’S GUIDE TO A STRESS-FREE CHRISTMAS
“Buy in your gravy. It’s only once a year, and just throw away the packaging so nobody knows you’ve done it. The people are more important than the food. You don’t need to make mince-meat. Quality mince-meat is readily available and you can always add a dash of brandy.”
“My family all love Christmas pudding, which I make well ahead. Traditionally it is made at the end of November but it can be made even earlier than that. To keep it moist I simply add a little more brandy or rum to the pudding once it is cooked and cold, keep it in a cool place then reheat on Christmas Day.”
KEEP IT SIMPLE
“The most common mistake people make with the dessert course is offering too much choice. After turkey and all the trimmings two desserts is plenty, although you may also want to bake mince pies too. Try making them topped with frangipane instead of a pastry lid for a new variation of an old favourite.”
Roast your potatoes the day before. That really worries people. Put them in a cupboard where people won’t pinch them. Do them to a pale golden brown and use the fat for something else. Then put them back for 20 minutes tomorrow to crisp up.”
“Cook bread sauce, red cabbage, roast potatoes, parsnips and stuffing the day before, and cut sprouts in half to save the cooking time.”
“A good tip, if you don’t have spare oven space, is to put the plates on a quick dishwasher cycle so they’re ready five minutes before you want to eat”
“The food isn’t the be-all and end-all, having your family around you is what it’s about. So if there were to be a culinary disaster, the only important thing to remember is not to get terribly upset about it.”
DINNER IS SERVED
Get your turkey and trimming timings spot on, thanks to Mary
(To serve at 2pm, based on the assumption you have already half-roasted your potatoes and parsnips the day before and pre-made the red cabbage, bread sauce, stuffing and a basic gravy).
7.40am Take turkey out of fridge to allow to come to room temperature before cooking. Arrange oven shelves so that the turkey will fit.
8.10am Preheat the oven to 220°C/ Fan 200°C/Gas 7.
8.40am Turkey into oven for 40 minutes at the high temperature.
9.20am Reduce oven temperature to 160°C/ Fan 140°C/ Gas 3 and cook turkey for a further 3½ hours, basting now and again.
10am Arrange smoked salmon or gravlax on plates for first course. Butter brown bread. Cover the plates with
clingfilm and keep in the fridge.
12.30pm Re-steam Christmas pudding to reheat. Warm plates and serving dishes if you have a hot plate. If using a second oven, heat in a low oven later.
1pm Check to see if the turkey is nearly cooked – turn back foil and turn heat up to 220°C/ Fan 200°C/Gas 7 for last 30 minutes to crisp skin. Put sausages wrapped in bacon into the second oven, at 190°C/ Fan 170°C/Gas 5 for 45 minutes until cooked and crisp.
1.20pm Take turkey out of oven. Test to make sure it is cooked. Leave to relax, loosely covered in foil and a thick towel for about 30 minutes before carving. Re-roast potatoes (presuming you had half roasted) in oven at 220°C/ Fan 200°C/ Gas 7. Reheat red cabbage on hob in a large pan, or microwave for a few minutes, spoon into a serving dish and keep warm. Arrange first courses on the table.
1.40pm Re-roast parsnips (half roasted) by putting into the same hot oven with the potatoes. Reheat stuffing in second oven, at 190°C/ Fan 170°C/Gas 5, for about 20 minutes. Reheat gravy, adding skimmed roasting juices from the cooked turkey. Check seasoning. Heat serving dishes and plates (if you didn’t do so before).
1.50pm Cook sprouts, drain and put in serving dish. Carve the turkey. Add a little milk and reheat the bread sauce gently in a small pan on the hob. Remove everything from the ovens, and put into warm serving dishes.
2pm Check water level on Christmas pudding, before you sit down to eat.