Our favourite meal of the year, with recipes from our favourite chef. It’s our early Christmas Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. How to cook a stress-free Christmas dinner the Heston way.
We normally have Christmas dinner with Ling’s family, which means our lunch on the 25th is a spectacular Chinese feast of Peking duck, lobster, sea cucumber and any number of wonderful things. It is always a magnificent meal.
The only drawback to this is missing out on the traditional British Christmas dinner. So every December we have one night where we make our own Christmas meal. And, so as not to disappoint you, our three-course Christmas dinner this year will be composed entirely of Heston Blumenthal Christmas dinner recipes.
The key to making our Heston Christmas dinner recipes a success is preparation and planning. So, rather than just discussing each of our individual Heston Christmas dinner recipes in turn, we’ll also try and look at how you can plan your Heston Christmas dinner recipes to go as smoothly as possible. You’ll need to do them over at least three days though.
Until a couple of years ago, when his collaboration with Waitrose got into its stride, it was quite hard to find traditional Heston Blumenthal Christmas Dinner recipes. Now Heston Blumenthal Christmas Dinner recipes are all over the internet. Here’s a breakdown of the Heston Christmas dinner recipe menu we’ll be serving:
- Roast Goose Crown (adapted from Heston’s Roast Turkey recipe).
- Confit Goose Leg (adapted from Heston’s Powdered Goose recipe)
- Heston’s Gravy recipe
- Heston’s Cranberry and Caraway Stuffing recipe
- Heston’s Roast Potatoes with Garlic and Rosemary recipe
- Heston’s Brussels Sprouts recipe
- Heston’s Glazed Carrots with Thyme recipe
- Heston’s Parsnip Chip Crisps recipe
- Heston’s Vodka, Orange and Cranberry Sauce recipe
- Heston’s Sherry trifle recipe
- Heston’s Mince pie recipe with Heston’s Potted Stilton recipe (adapted from Heston’s Eccles Cake recipe)
- Heston’s Edible Christmas Fairy Lights recipe (served on a table centrepiece Christmas tree)
Now, with a total of 16 components this might look like an awful lot of food to make for two people (especially when you consider the Heston’s trifle recipe breaks down into four separate recipes). But, with a bit of forward planning, we hoped this would actually be a very simple and stress-free meal to make. As long as you start two days in advance.
Note: You might be wondering why we’re making the complicated Heston Sherry Trifle recipe rather than just splitting a Waitrose Heston Hidden Clementine Christmas Pudding between the two of us?
Well, we wanted Mince Pies with Potted Stilton to nibble on with our after-dinner Christmas movie. And with Heston’s Christmas pudding beforehand that’d just be far too much rich dried fruit. Plus, we prefer trifle.
TWO DAYS BEFORE
Jointed into legs and a crown to make brining easier. Put in an 8% brine. (I’d wanted just the crown while there were only two of us, but all I could find was an entire bird – Leftovers, anyone?).
Cut into ribbons using a potato peeler. Last time we made these the oil nearly bubbled over due to the water contained in the parsnips. We figured if we left them uncovered in the fridge for a couple of days they might be dryer and less prone to causing some sort of Peyton Westlake incident.
These can be kept in the freezer until you’re ready to bake them. Which for our purposes will be while we’re sat eating our main course.These are incredibly easy to make (useful with so many elements being juggled). Nuts, vine fruits, citrus zest and spices are combined with butter and sugar in a pan.
Then you portion them into “balls” (lumps) in the freezer using an ice cream scoop.The balls don’t fully freeze. So, when it’s time to wrap them in pastry an hour later (after you’ve had time to work on the edible baubles and stuffing) you can still mould them into shape. And get very sticky hands as you do.
Eccles cakes are slashed three times across the top. I don’t know why. But to avoid angering whatever Lancashire pastry God demands this we made just two slashes on our mince pies (this is also copying the two slashes on Heston’s Puff Pastry Mince Pies).
They can now wait in the freezer until you are ready. Remember to prepare an egg was on the night before baking them. Although I believe you can egg wash them ten minutes in if you happen to forget. Ahem.
The similarities between Eccles cakes and mince pies made this seem an ideal accompaniment. Plus, you need cheese at Christmas.This keeps really well in the fridge, so you can make it ahead and keep on tucking in for a good few days after the big meal. There are a few pitfalls to avoid if you want this to work properly though. It took us three attempts before we got it right.
First up, you need to blend Stilton, Mascarpone and butter. And although this is called potted “Stilton” there’s more of the other two ingredients by weight than there is of blue cheese.Speaking of which, our first attempt at making this used Gorgonzola, which we prefer to Stilton. Unfortunately Gorgonzola is a much softer cheese, so the texture of the finished dish simply doesn’t hold together.
To this you add a warmed mixture of water, vinegar and sherry. It’s best to blitz the cheese in a bowl rather than a tall jar as we did. Using your stick blender to incorporate the liquid is also a good idea. You do need to use a whisk to fully emulsify everything though, as there’ll be a lot of loose liquid if not. This avoids an ugly, split mixture.
The recipe makes enough to fill about two ramekins. This will be plenty for 4, and way too much for just 2.
Cranberry & Caraway Stuffing:
The Stuffing can be prepared a couple of days in advance.On this occasion I’d saved enough for two from our Thanksgiving meal. It’s complicated to make, so it’s worthwhile making plenty and storing batches in the freezer.If not simply set a bowl on some scales and weigh all the dry ingredients into it (bread, caraway seeds etc.) Then set your bowl next to your frying pan.
Cook the sausage then onion then celery then alcohol in turn, tipping each into the bowl once it’s done. Finish with the chicken stock and beurre noisette ( the health conscious can skip the butter and just add extra stock).
Edible Christmas Baubles:
I really wanted to have these as a centrepiece. A decoration we could eat at the end of the meal.They’re relatively simple to make (although they require a bit of care when putting them onto the lights on the tree).
While the rest of the night-before prep takes place you can have this ticking over in the background. Our last attempt for our Heston Thanksgiving Dinner recipes turned out to have an overpowering bitter flavour. We were adamant we’d perfect the gravy recipe this time.
As before, chicken wings (plus bits of goose carcass) were roasted in a dusting of skimmed milk powder and roasted for an hour. Meanwhile we’re frying onions, then carrots then mushrooms, also for an hour. This seems an absurdly long time to be doing it, but the veg doesn’t end up as burned as you’d expect.
Next, pour off the fat, scrape up the burnt on bits and add them and the roasted bird pieces to the pressure cooker along with enough water to cover. Bring to the boil, lid on, pressure cook for two hours.
We had to strain in two stages as there was much more solid than our humble sieve could hold. A second strain through wet muslin would be an advantage here. The resulting stock is then reduced down until it’ll fit in our 400ml Tupperware in the fridge. It will set to a jelly overnight and the fat can be scraped off the top the next day.
IMPORTANT – Do NOT reduce stocks on a fast boil. This seems to create bitter compounds that can ruin the flavour. If this does happen remember Heston’s trick for reducing the bitterness of chocolate and add as many pinches of salt as you think the sauce can take, along with sugar. We’ve made this mistake ourselves. It’s a terrible way to ruin hours of hard work and a good few pounds worth of ingredients.
Get the gravy on first before starting on the other items.
After two hours of heavy rinsing in the largest bowl we could find, and lots of changes of water, these were put into our eBay sous-vide rig to confit overnight. (I’ve found the more water the better for stopping brined meat tasting too salty).Sous-vide confit has the advantage of giving perfectly controlled results while using a fraction of the fat of the traditional method.This doesn’t make it any healthier, but it’s cheaper and less wasteful -you don’t use up two whole jars of fat.We added the “powdered” spices to the sous vide bag to flavour the meat as it cooked. This is another cost-saving advantage as you also need far less flavouring too. A little goes a long way.
Sprouts & Carrots:
Peeled and cut ready for cooking.Heston’s sprout recipe tells you to cut the bottoms of each sprout and then separate them into individual leaves. When we did this for our Heston vs Gordon Christmas dinner challenge it took 3 people an hour to separate enough spout leaves to feed 6.Our suggestion is to just shred the leaves as finely as you can. (We’ve copied this from the amazing-looking Christmas Royal Roast served by the Heston-taught chefs at Aumbry). You get all of the flavour, none of the mushiness of whole sprouts, and you won’t be feeling suicidal at the end of your prep.The carrots can just be cut however you like.
The night before is the perfect time to do the first three layers of the trifle.A dozen sponge fingers are treated with a few spoonfuls of sherry and green tea, with a dash of lime. It’s not an awful lot of liquid, but reduces the bone-dry sponge fingers to an unpleasant mushy slop within minutes. This is like something you’d serve in a care home.
I prowled dozens of supermarket aisles looking for redcurrant jelly, convinced it’d be some obscure flavour that was simply too leftfield for Rowntrees. Turns out it’s actually a condiment located between the Mint Sauce and Ocean Spray Cranberry. I was almost disappointed that there wasn’t more mystery.
How you “spread” jelly onto mush (as per the instructions) is anyone’s guess. I had to break the jelly up with a spoon so I could get it into the trifle glasses without smearing it down the sides. Breaking up the texture seemed to ruin the point of using jelly in the first place. A jar is 340ml, and the recipe calls for a full jar, so we just divided this equally between 4 glasses (2 to go wrong, or second helpings if we’re feeling greedy). We would need less than one of these in the end.
The final make-ahead layer is the custard. Made the standard way: pouring a boiled mixture of vanilla pod-infused milk and cream into whisked egg yolks and sugar, then heating. We added saffron to our cream to give the custard a glorious yellow colour.
Our thermometer might need recalibrating, we had to take this right up to the mid-eighties to get the thick, coat-the-back-of-a-spoon effect that Heston’s trifle recipe calls for.
After a disastrous incident with custard not setting in Heston’s Chocolate and Cherry pudding I added a touch of gelatine to this custard to help it set (a technique stolen from the perfection recipe). This would turn out to be a mistake.
It’s very quick to cool the custard over ice water. After this you can pour it on top of the jelly layer and leave the 3/4 assembled trifles to set in the fridge (covered with Clingfilm to prevent a skin forming on the custard).
You need to start about 4 hours beforehand to ensure everything comes together, but you won’t be very busy until the final hour.
We made a few mistakes, which hopefully you can learn from.
6 hours before serving time you need to start rinsing the salt off, soaking the bird in a large vessel in as many changes of water as possible. (Again, big bowl, lots of water avoids over-salty meat). About 4 hours before dinner is due to be served the bird went into the oven at 55°C. This only gave us about 3 hours of roasting time.We had some trouble getting the very centre of the breast up to the required temperature. In the end the oven was ramped up to full temp for the last 20 minutes to get a core reading of 55° in the goose breast.
As you can see the skin looks almost uncooked. We’d planned to make a crispy crackling of this by just frying it off in a pan. That didn’t work in the slightest. Back to the drawing board!
These will happily stay in the bag, perfectly cooked. We took them out a bit too early to shred the meat, which was reheated in a pan on the stove just before serving.
Really you can skip that step. Just leave them out of the way in the sous vide cooker and crack them open to shred as you’re plating up.
The only component of the meal that needs to be made in its entirety on the day (although let me know if you think there’s any steps we could have made ahead).
We’ve found it’s best if the potatoes have had plenty time to dry and cool before putting them into the roasting tray. Try to get these boiled just after the goose goes in the oven (they take about 20 – 30 minutes depending on the texture you like). As an experiment we made two batches. One were boiled for half the time and roasted in their skins with just olive oil (Ling’s preference).
The others were heavily boiled, roughed up, then roasted in a deeper mixture of olive oil and goose fat. The skinless potatoes were still boiled with the skins in the pan, to help infuse their flavour. I’m running out of muslin so we didn’t bother with that, just chucked them in the pan and plucked them out by hand (testing how our asbestos fingers were developing) after they’d drained.
Along with regular turning both sets of spuds had garlic and good supply of rosemary and thyme added at the 20-minute mark. This is also when the stuffing goes in the oven, which makes it easy to remember.
This slides into a saucepan as a solid jellified lump. We threw in some leftover bones from the goose and extra herbs to infuse more flavour as it warmed through.
SinceI’d made this far too bitter by reducing it on too high a heat I also had to add a lot of salt and sugar to try and save it.It can simmer along nicely on the lowest heat setting before sieving and serving.
Dead simple. Our tray of prepared stuffing just goes in the oven on the shelf under the roast potatoes 20 minutes before they’re due to come out.
In the time between the roast going in and the final hour bringing everything together you can start finely chopping your smoked bacon rashers. For this to work with the finely shredded sprouts you really do need to cut your bacon into as small pieces as possible.
You cook the bacon first, so that the sprouts can cook in the bacon fat, along with butter. Our bacon fat burned onto the bottom of the pan, so we deglazed with a splash of water before adding the butter. In the spirit of the season you could also use goose fat.
In spite of being finely shredded these still take about 8 to 10 minutes to fully cook through (unless you like your sprouts with plenty bite). It’s best to toss them in the pan with the lid on, rather than stirring them. This prevents you losing the steam that’s helping cook the sprouts.
I wanted to save space on the hob, and I quite like roasted carrots, so these were popped into a foil parcel with a few knobs of butter, thyme and a sprinkle of caster sugar.They went into the oven about 40 minutes before serving time, on a tray underneath the potatoes. They’d be joined by the cranberry stuffing after 20 minutes of cooking.
Best made before the final hour of cooking, although looking back we could’ve made this the night before and stored it until serving time.
It’s a very easy recipe. Simply measure out the ingredients (you can weigh them all into the same pan) then place on the hob for ten minutes. I was glad to have a go at making this after Dan’s success with it for our Heston Thanksgiving dinner recipes feast.
You have to make these at the absolute last minute for them to be at their hot, crispy best. To make the frying stage less hazardous I tried to dry them out a bit by popping them in the oven alongside the low temperature goose breast.
Fortunately the frying part takes all of 5 minutes once the oil has come to temperature. It’s a slight juggling act as you try to get everything else off the stove and onto the plate. But what’s Christmas dinner without a bit of frantic confusion, hey!?Each handful only takes about 60 seconds to cook through. Just make sure you have a paper towel lined bowl ready to catch them and don’t overcrowd the pan.
With three layers prepped the night before the final thing to do is add the syllabub topping.This has to be made and put on at the absolute last minute. So weight out the booze (brandy, sherry and cider) and macerate with lemon zest and caster sugar.
It can be incorporated into the cream just prior to whipping and serving.Ling stepped in with her spectacular piping skills to decorate these beautifully. This meant we followed Heston’s instructions perfectly, but this required final step is an unwelcome interruption to the flow of the meal.
Don’t make our mistake! Have an egg-wash ready before you start on the rest of the meal. That way you have to hand to brush on when these go in (yep, it was me that forgot!)They take about 30 – 35 minutes from frozen, plus resting time. So once the roast potatoes, carrots and stuffing come out of the oven you can pop them in.This should give you plenty time to plate up and eat your mains and first dessert course before they’re ready. But we set a kitchen timer just in case.
This really doesn’t like being served fridge-cold. (Late night snackers, you have been warned) As the mince pies go in the oven remove your potted stilton from the fridge.
I’m quite proud of how we managed to get a huge number of complicated dishes to come together with this meal.
The Roast: was excellent, although next time we’d use less spice and cook the breast sous vide as well. We’d simply drop the temperature of the SV cooker to 60° and pop them in alongside the legs.
This would free up the oven and remove some of the panic we had when the bird hadn’t come to temperature after 3 hours in the oven. The confit leg could be reheated in its own bag along with the breast (60° would be an acceptable serving temperature, as the leg has already been cooked up to 75° overnight).
As our crispy skin didn’t work we’d probably salt it separately for a couple of days then try to make a kind of crackling in the oven (or microwave, under an upturned Tupperware box) as the meal was coming together.
Roast Potatoes: The conclusion of our experiment is that olive oil really does work better than goose fat, and that you don’t need buckets of it for great results. A 50/50 mix of skin-on and skin-off potatoes will be our way forward. Just hope Gary doesn’t consider this sacrilegious.
Stuffing: Still as humongously pleasing as it ever was. And still best made ahead of time. We might make a bulk batch -without the chestnuts, cranberries and caraway seeds- and store it in the freezer. A universal stuffing that’d go with any roast dinner.
Gravy: I still didn’t have the guts to whisk in the 40g of melted butter to finish Heston’s gravy recipe. Mainly because there’s a terrifying amount of saturated in fat in the rest of the meal. I know this misses out it’s essential thickening and emulsifying properties, meaning gravy thickness (which we like) has to come from reducing the sauce to get the right consistency.
I did make the mistake of reducing on a fast boil, which created unpleasant bitter compounds – as was the case with the Thanksgiving dinner.
If made properly Heston’s gravy is a 4 hour endeavour (roasting wings, pressure cooking and finishing). It’s quite laborious. In future I’d be tempted to roast a tray of wings & giblets along with the potatoes and make a flour-thickened sauce the old fashioned way.
Parsnips: These were a huge success. Although the two day drying-out didn’t really have much impact on moisture levels. Nor did leaving them in with the low-temperature goose crown for 3 hours.
In the end it’s best to just cook them in a large pan of oil in batches. If the pan is only half full of oil, and if you don’t thrown in too many parsnips at once, there’s no risk of the pan boiling over.
To avoid last-minute panic we’d suggest cooking them 10 minutes before they’re due to be served and keeping them warm in a bowl in the oven. That way you can get everything else off the hobs without juggling these at the same time.
Sprouts: A triumph! We were right not to separate the leaves and shred them like this. The only downside is that it’s almost impossible to tell you’re actually eating sprouts. But with all the grim distaste associated with them is that really a bad thing? You will want to eat sprouts all the time if you cook them this way.
Carrots: Cooking them in the oven seemed an ideal way to save space on the hob they were still a bit firmer than we’d have liked after 40 minutes. And not in any way caramelised from the high heat of the oven.
If doing this again we’d suggest cooking them for longer, and uncovering them for the last ten minutes or so to get that nice caramelised edge. Or just use up that last hob.
Cranberry Sauce: I really liked this, but to be honest you don’t need a lot. If you were making dinner for a crowd it’s easy to make and convenient to store, so best done the night before. We barely used a few teaspoons though, so we probably wouldn’t bother making it in future.
If you are making this, and the mince pies, it’s a brilliant way to use up the juice from the zested oranges. Cointreau seems and tastes a lot more logical than vodka too.
Sherry Trifle: Unfortunately this was a total failure. And I’m sorry to say it’s because we just don’t like Heston’s Trifle recipe.
Tony Naylor and Felicity Cloake both despise jelly in trifles. Apparently it’s not mature or sophisticated. Hawksmoor, on the other hand, love it (Heston uses a home-made jelly in his Perfect Trifle recipe as well). And since Hawksmoor recipes are always the kind of things you really want to eat we’ve no problem with following their recipe next time.
At least that’ll avoid the rancid taste of the redcurrant jelly. And we could do without the too-sour syllabub cream-topping too. Also, call us childish, but we’ll leave out the sherry as well.
The base needs work too – in spite of using the exact measurements Heston’s trifle base was far too mushy. Oh, and don’t use gelatine in your custard. Ours turned out more solid than the redcurrant jelly layer below it. And while the saffron gave plenty colour it also added too much of its flavour to be a welcome inclusion.
Basically, there’s not a single layer of this trifle we’d care to repeat. Although, in spite of what Tony Naylor says, we think pistachios make a fine, colourful topping. Perhaps we’d add some toasted almonds next time as well. No popping candy though, that is too much of a distraction.
Mince Pies: These were very good, if not quite to our particular taste. They looked great and the underlying technique is sound.
In future we’d vary the ingredients with a 50/50 mix of currants to sultanas, and replace 50g of them with grated apple.
Although crunch is my favourite texture (I was raised on Kellogg’s Frosties) the hazelnuts didn’t feel quite right here. And there were slightly too many of them in the mix. Pecans and almonds is what we’d prefer, using around 2/3 of what Heston’s Mince Pie recipe suggests.
Potted Stilton: After several attempts to get this right (you cannot substitute Gorgonzola for Stilton, and whisking to fully emulsify at the end is essential) we cracked this recipe.
Our goal was to tick the cheese and mince pie boxes for the Christmas meal, but in all honesty we’d personally prefer to eat our mince pies with clotted cream. Next time we might just serve a normal cheese course (carbonating some grapes in a soda siphon along the way). And then snack on the Mince Pies afterwards as well.
Christmas dinner is an incredibly personal thing. Heston’s Christmas dinner recipes are a marvellous starting point for a fantastic meal. But, like Gary says, it’s essential you make things the way you like them.
Our next Christmas dinner might not carry Blumenthal’s full seal of approval, but he’s shown us enough techniques to make sure it’ll be the best Christmas dinner ever.
So what did you think of this menu? What changes would you make, and what Heston recipes would you serve to make up your perfect Christmas dinner recipe? Please let us know in the comments section.