Celebrating the season as the Brits do, with Regula Ysewijn and Carolyn Robb
“If you want to know what an English Christmas is all about, you need to read A Christmas Carol. The book was written at a time when Christmas traditions were waning. Dickens gave the Christmas feast a boost, and gave people something that they much needed, which was, basically, a manual — how do we celebrate Christmas, what do we eat? You could say that Charles Dickens saved Christmas, in a way.”
— Regula Ysewijn
I am not, typically, a celebrator of Christmas, but these last few years, and for a bunch of different reasons, I’ve been partaking in the festivities increasingly. Last year, joined by a couple of other, younger, members of my family, I even went out and cut down a tree for our living room, which wasn’t, strictly speaking, legal, but was definitely fun.
And it’s true that having my kids and their kids around gives it all a different feeling. I’m not entirely wild about the gift insanity, or Rudolph, but I like the coziness, the togetherness, the fireplace, Ella Fitzgerald, and THE FOOD.
So it felt appropriate to do a Christmas episode of Food with Mark Bittman. We luckily garnered two stellar guests, who made making this particular show an easy lift, thanks to their sparkling personalities and unusual, even unique, careers.
Two separate interviews today, both of which are interesting in their own right. The first is culinary historian and judge on the Belgian version of The Great British Bake Off, Regula Ysewijn, who also wrote The Downton Abbey Christmas Cookbook. And our second guest is Carolyn Robb, who was just 21 years old when she began working as royal chef to the Prince and Princess of Wales — Charles and Diana — and Prince William and Prince Harry as well; she stayed at Kensington Palace for 11 years, and just published a cookbook, Christmas at the Palace.
I hope you enjoy this episode; truly, we’ve got two spirited and fun conversations here. Please listen and subscribe, and please review on Apple if you’re so inclined. Today’s podcast recipes are Anchovy Éclairs, from The Downton Abbey Christmas Cookbook; and Raspberry Almond Shortbread with Marzipan, from Christmas at the Palace.
Thank you, as always. — Mark
Makes 12 small pastries
These are among the easiest savories to make. All you need are good-quality puff pastry and a jar of anchovy fillets in oil. Even people who do not like the flavor — or the look — of anchovies will enjoy these little savory puffs. Called éclairs probably because the term sounds elegant, they would make a lovely hors d’oeuvre. But in an Edwardian house at Christmastime, they are more properly served at the end of the meal, after the pudding. — The Downton Abbey Christmas Cookbook
Flour, for the work surface
About 10 oz (285 g) all-butter puff pastry, thawed according to package directions if frozen
12 large or 24 small anchovy fillets in olive oil
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten, for egg wash
Grated Gruyère cheese, for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the puff pastry a scant 1/4 inch (6 mm) thick. Cut out a rectangle about 9 by 8 inches (23 by 20 cm). Cut the rectangle into 12 strips each about 4 by 1 ½ inches (10 by 4 cm).
With the long side of each strip facing you, place I large or 2 small anchovy fillets in the middle of the pastry, leaving 1/2 inch (12 mm) uncovered on each side. Fold the top of the strip over the fillet(s), enclosing completely, and crimp the edges securely closed with a fork. Brush the top of each pastry with the egg wash and then sprinkle with a little cheese. Carefully transfer the pastries to the prepared pan, spacing them well apart.
Bake the pastries until puffed and golden, 8-10 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.
— Recipe from The Downton Abbey Christmas Cookbook
Raspberry-Almond Shortbread with Marzipan
Makes 12 generous fingers or fifteen 2-inch (5-cm) rounds
The combination of buttery almond shortbread with tangy raspberry jam and marzipan is heavenly. You can make either dainty individual rounds or a slab of shortbread to cut into fingers. Apricot jam makes a delicious alternative to the raspberry jam. — Christmas at the Palace
For the shortbread:
1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoons (125 g) cold butter, plus more for the tartlet molds if using
1 cup (125 g) flour
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (50 g) confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup (50 g) ground almonds
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the topping:
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
5 ½ oz (150 g) marzipan
2/3 cup (200 g) raspberry jam
1 tablespoon sliced almonds (optional)
To make the shortbread, line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch (20-cm) square baking pan with parchment paper, extending the parchment above the rim to use for lifting the baked shortbread from the pan, or line the bottom of fifteen 2-inch (5-cm) round tartlet molds with parchment paper and butter the sides.
In a food processor, combine the butter, flour, sugar, almonds, and vanilla and process until the dough is the texture of crumbs. Tip into a bowl and bring together by hand to form a smooth dough.
Press the dough evenly into the prepared square pan, using the back of a spoon to smooth it, or shape the dough into 15 equal-size balls and press each ball into a prepared round mold, bringing the dough up a little higher around the sides. Prick the dough lightly all over with a fork. Arrange the round molds on a large sheet pan. Chill the dough for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C).
Bake the shortbread until light golden but still quite soft to the touch, about 20 minutes for the square pan and 8-12 minutes for the tartlet molds. Let cool in the pan or the molds on a wire rack.
While the shortbread is baking, make the topping. Lightly dust a work surface or parchment paper with confectioners’ sugar and roll out the marzipan about 1/4 inch (6 mm) thick. For the large slab, cut out at least 15 small, medium, and large marzipan shapes using snowflake, star, or any other shaped cutters of your choice. For each small round, cut out 2-3 small marzipan shapes of choice. For tiny snowflakes, a plunger cutter works best. Keep the marzipan to one side.
Preheat the broiler. Using a palette knife or an offset spatula, spread the jam evenly over the top of the large cooled shortbread. If you have baked small rounds, spread a little jam in the center of each round. Position the marzipan shapes on top of the jam. Place the shortbread under the broiler and broil until the marzipan is golden brown, 8-10 minutes. If using the almonds, sprinkle them over the shortbread just before it is ready and return it to the broiler for 1 minute. Watch closely, as marzipan and almonds burn easily.
Let the shortbread cool completely on a wire rack, then carefully ease it out of the square pan or the round molds. Lightly dust with confectioners’ sugar, then, if you have baked the slab, cut into 12 fingers to serve. The shortbread will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.
— Recipe from Christmas at the Palace