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Festive food and wine: Christmas with a twist

Sick of turkey and sprouts? Five experienced food writers from Decanter’s sister publications provide seasonal inspiration with their favourite Christmas recipe, each matched by the perfect wine suggestions from our own expert.

Jess Meyer

Food editor, woman & Woman’s Own

Growing up in Australia, Christmas signalled the official beginning of a long, hot summer, filled with barbecues, backyard cricket and daily visits to the beach. For my family, like many, this meant dinner was often served al fresco, the festive table laden with colourful salads, a tropical pavlova, and most importantly, truly heroic quantities of seafood, especially prawns – always served cold, shell on, with a simple squeeze of lemon.

Since moving to the UK I’ve embraced many of the comforts that come with a wintry Christmas, swapping the zingy salads for roasted veggies, and the pav for warm butterscotch pud, but the seafood is still the highlight.

These days, the spread has evolved into more of a grazing board, with lots of seasonal favourites like oysters, and plenty of tasty sauces. Whether I’m hosting for two or 20, this flexible feast perfectly sums up the relaxed vibes of Christmas at home.

Seafood platter

Serves 2-3

Prep 15 minutes

For the Champagne mignonette:
2 shallots, finely diced
120ml Champagne vinegar (or use a good quality white wine vinegar)
1-2 tbsp Champagne or sparkling wine (optional)

For the platter:
6 fresh oysters, shucked
12 cooked whole tiger prawns
100g sliced smoked salmon
Lemon wedges, caper berries, dill sprigs, toasted ciabatta, aioli, to serve (optional) Crushed ice and rock salt, to assemble

1. For the mignonette, combine the shallot and vinegar in a small bowl with a pinch of salt, white pepper and caster sugar. Cover and chill until ready to serve (make up to 1 day ahead).

2. To assemble, fill a lipped serving platter with crushed ice and rock salt (this will keep everything nice and cold at the table). Arrange the seafood on the platter, along with the mignonette. Garnish with lemon wedges, dill, caper berries and any other sauces, toppings or accompaniments you fancy.

3. Add the Champagne/sparkling wine to the mignonette and spoon it over the oysters to serve

Fiona Beckett on what to drink

A seafood platter is a great opportunity to crack open a treasured white wine you’ve been saving for a special occasion. Given the inspiration is Australian I’d be tempted by an aged Australian Semillon, though it might not be to everyone’s taste. Maybe put it on the table anyway, but a safer choice might be a Margaret River Sauvignon-Semillon blend such as Vasse Felix, Classic Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc (£12.50 Tesco) or Cullen’s Cullen Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon 2022 (£21.65 The Fine Wine Co).

Jen Bedloe

Group food director, woman&home

I tend to host Christmas and over the years we’ve borrowed ideas and adapted our day to incorporate the kids growing up, and favourite bits from our childhoods. My favourite part of the day is sitting down with Champagne, smoked salmon and paté toasts to open presents. I’d leave the roast to Boxing Day (if I had my way).

We have a few traditions that we stick to, including making my late dad’s cheesy bacon rolls, and we always go to the church nativity (and pub) on Christmas Eve. We tend to mix up the meat element each year. My kids love a juicy rib of beef, but this year I’m planning to make this riff on porchetta with its herby spiced seasoning that will go well with the sides and trimmings.

Credit: Hanna Hughes

Porchetta-style roast pork (with crackling)

An Italian-style roast with wow factor and killer crackling if you ask your butcher to leave the skin on.

Serves 8
25 minutes, plus overnight marinating
Cook 4 hours

2kg pork belly joint, skin scored (ask your butcher to do this and to score under the skin)
½ bulb garlic, cloves chopped
½ tsp each juniper and allspice
1 bunch thyme, leaves picked
6 sprigs rosemary, leaves picked
Zest 1 orange
5 large banana shallots, halved
Handful sage leaves
Opies pickled pears (optional)
You will need: kitchen string

1. Unroll the pork belly. Combine the garlic, spices, herbs and zest. Rub all over the meat and under the skin, then roll up and tie with kitchen string at intervals to secure the joint. Put on a tray uncovered in the fridge (away from other foods) overnight to marinate and dry out the skin.

2. Heat the oven to 240°C/475°F/gas 9 (or as high as it can go). Put the pork in a roasting tin, then roast for 30-40 minutes to crackle the skin. Turn the heat down to 150°C/300°F/gas 2 for 3hrs 30 minutes until tender, adding the shallots and sage leaves 30 minutes before the end of the cooking time.

3. Let the pork rest, then remove the crackling. Slice the pork thinly and serve with the trimmings and pickled pears, if using.

What to drink

Although the recipe is Italian style, you could go for any generous red with this – a good Rhône ‘cru’ would be more than fine. But if you’re looking for an excuse, as I would be, to crack open a serious Tuscan red like the gloriously supple Castello di Volpaia, Coltassala 2017 (£34.99 Adnams) – Italian reds always have that wonderful acidity that’s perfect with pork – this recipe would more than justify it.

Georgia Sparks

Food writer, Goodto.com & Chat

My family usually hosts Christmas, and over the years we’ve hosted up to 15 people! A mismatch of chairs and tables gathered together and covered with a tablecloth to mask it. Because of this, we have to be prepped and ready to go, making sure everyone is fed and watered from the moment they step inside. Canapés and Champagne on arrival is how the day begins, while everyone mingles.

One of our favourite canapés is my mum’s cheesy biscuits – buttery, crisp and so light they melt in your mouth. The cheese doesn’t end there though. My mum is a cheesemonger and we take our cheeseboard very seriously. In the early evening she puts on an elaborate spread of cheeses, cold meats and crudités to round off the evening. Somehow there’s always room for cheese!

Credit: Futurecontent.com

Cheddar cheese & chutney biscuits

You’ll never get tired of cooking these cheese biscuits. They’re unbelievably simple to make but taste so good.

Makes 38
Prep 5 minutes
12-15 minutes

200g Cheddar, grated
200g unsalted butter
200g plain flour
1 tsp mustard powder
2 tbsp chutney

To serve
1 medium egg, beaten
3 tbsp Parmesan, finely grated

1. Heat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas 6. In a food processor, whizz together all the main ingredients to make a dough.

2. Roll the dough out on a well-floured surface to 0.5cm thickness, and cut into 5cm squares (but go for oddshaped biscuits to help reduce the amount of waste).

3. Transfer to a floured baking tray, then brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden brown. Remove and allow to cool on the tray.

What to drink

Georgia says her family traditionally serves Champagne with these biscuits, and who are we to argue? Given that Christmas is a family occasion you might not want to splash out on a top cuvée, but there are plenty of own-label Champagnes – or English sparkling wines – that would do the job to perfection. Be daring and go for the latter. I really like Roebuck Estates’ rich, toasty Reserve 2020 from Sussex (£38.99 Majestic).

Rose Fooks

Deputy food editor, Woman’s Weekly

I spent an extravagant (and foie gras-filled) Christmas with my partner’s French family, and I realised just how dear my own family’s version of Christmas is to me. A hodgepodge of traditions, it’s all the small things that make it special… icing the cake with dad, saving the goose fat for a year of crisp roast potatoes, even the grainy chopped liver my mother makes every year before I can remind her to devein the livers.

All these memories hold a special place in my heart. But my most treasured Christmas ritual is making my grandmother’s Vanillekipferl. She would bake these delicate, crescent-shaped almond biscuits dredged in vanilla sugar in abundance. In 1939 my grandmother fled Austria. As a Jewish refugee she could bring little with her, but she never lost the traditions from her Viennese festivities.

Credit: Rose Fooks


Makes 50 biscuits
Prep 25 minutes
Cook 10-12 minutes

175g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
175g plain flour
90g caster sugar
90g ground almonds
1 tsp vanilla essence
about 100g caster sugar, ideally vanilla infused, for coating
You will need: a couple of baking trays lined with baking paper

1. Put the ingredients, apart from the sugar for coating, in a food processor and whizz to a soft dough. Loosely wrap and chill for at least 20 minutes.

2. Heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4. Break off lumps of the mixture – the size of a big grape. Form each into a ball in the palm of your hand before rolling it into a cylinder about 1cm thick.

3. Shape into a crescent and put on a lined baking tray. Continue until the tray is full, making sure to leave ample space for spreading between each crescent. You may need to cook them in several batches. Bake for 10-12 minutes until just starting to colour.

4. Leave the biscuits on the tray to harden for about 3 minutes before dredging over the sugar while still warm. Transfer to a cooling rack.

5. These keep well stored in an airtight container for a few weeks.

What to drink

Given these biscuits are of Austrian origin it would be nice to serve a sweet Austrian wine like a Ruster Ausbruch with them, but those are not the easiest wines to track down. A Tokaji from neighbouring Hungary might be easier and equally delicious. There is the luscious Oremus, Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2013 if you feel like splashing out (£70.50- £75/50cl Berry Bros & Rudd, Hic, WoodWinters), though you can sometimes find incredibly well-priced Tokajis in Lidl or Aldi at this time of year.

Amanda James

Food writer, Feel Good You

Growing up I had to alternate Christmas between my parents. Still to this day, my mum makes up big stockings for me and my brother and we have to act out that Santa has been and go up to our bedrooms to get our presents.

At mum’s, my duty is to make the panettone bread and butter pudding with marmalade and too much chocolate. At my dad’s I took on the cooking of the Christmas meal. But this year my partner Jack and I will be hosting our first Christmas with our 20-month-old daughter Juno and our whippet Luna.

Along with the traditional bread and butter pudding and the snowball cocktails, I’ll be making a special Christmas cake, but with some of our favourite flavours… fruit and nut with a decent amount of pineapple, salted caramel and a hint of Scotch whisky, a nod to Jack’s family heritage.

Credit: Sean Calitz

Fruit & nut whisky Christmas cake with salted caramel

A modern twist on a traditional classic cake. Packed with fruit and nut, sweetened with salted caramel and a warming splash of whisky, this cake is sure to impress guests over the festive season.

Makes 1 x 23cm cake or serves 12-14
Prep 25 minutes, plus soaking
Cook 2 hours 30 minutes plus cooling

100g dried dates, chopped
100g sultanas
100ml Scotch whisky juice and zest of 1 orange
250g unsalted butter
200g dark soft brown sugar
4 medium free-range eggs
250g plain flour
50g ground almonds
100g pecans, chopped
100g hazelnuts, chopped
100g macadamia nuts, chopped
100g dried pineapple, chopped
100g maraschino cherries, halved
50g toffee, chopped
100g salted caramel

For the cover
3-4 tbsp apricot jam warmed, plus extra for the fondant
1-2 tbsp icing sugar, for dusting
700g golden marzipan

For the decoration
1-2 tbsp icing sugar, for dusting
700g white fondant icing
Red, blue, green, yellow gel food colouring (you can use your favourite colours)
Black, yellow, green, red fondant colours (you can use your favourite colours)
You will need: 20cm at least/ 7cm-8cm deep cake tin greased and lined with baking paper

1. In a bowl add the dates, sultanas, whisky and orange juice. Leave to soak for at least 1 hour. Heat the oven to 160°C/320°F/gas 3.

2. In a large mixing bowl beat the butter with the sugar until fluffy and pale. Beat in the eggs one by one, beating well after each addition. Add the flour and almonds and mix again until combined. Stir through the soaked fruit followed by the chopped nuts, dried pineapple and cherries. Fold in the toffee and salted caramel.

3. Pour into the prepared tin and level out. Dampen your fingers then gently press all over the surface of the batter. This helps prevent it from becoming overly firm during baking. Bake for 1 hour.

4. Reduce the heat to 150°C/300°F/gas 2 and cover with baking paper or foil then put back in the oven for another 1½ hours until cooked through and a skewer poked in comes out clean.

5. Leave the cake to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before transferring it to a wire rack to cool completely. If you are making the cake in advance, wrap the cake in baking paper and cover with foil. Store it in an airtight container.

6. Dust a clean surface with icing sugar and roll out the marzipan so it covers all sides of the cake. Brush the warmed apricot over the cake then carefully drop the marzipan over the top and smooth out, ensuring you cement the sides, too. Cut any excess around the bottom.

7. Dust the surface with more icing sugar and knead 500g white fondant with your chosen gel colour (we used blue). Gently knead to create a marble effect then roll out to the size of the cake. Carefully drop over the marzipan and smooth it out, cutting off any excess fondant around the bottom. Roll out more white fondant to create the white snow-capped hills, and cut using more jam to stick.

8. Use the other gels, white and coloured fondant to create your desired colour. We used the black, yellow and white for the penguin, marbled white with green for the trees, pink and white for the reindeer and yellow for the stars. Leave in an airtight container until ready to serve.

What to drink

You could of course drink a whisky – preferably aged in a Sherry cask – with this, but any sweet fortified wine would do: a 10-year-old tawny Port, a cream Sherry or a sweet Madeira. Given the salted caramel, I’d be tempted by an Australian Muscat such as Stanton & Killeen, Rutherglen NV though, widely available by the 37.5cl half-bottle at independent wine merchants and online, priced £14.25-£17.

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