Every Tuesday during our Christmas Countdown, Le Cordon Bleu London’s accomplished alumni will be sharing their Christmas stories, to give you a bit of festive inspiration and a unique insight into potential career prospects after acquiring a qualification from the world leading culinary arts, wine and management school!
The final alumni in the series is Ailsa Hayward, who is the proud owner of a mobile pâtisserie business, catering for weddings, parties and events in the Angus countryside, in Scotland.
My father was a chef and my mother a fabulous home baker, so Christmases always centred around a massive family get together, with our home heaving with family and sometimes friends. My parents would be up until very late on Christmas Eve preparing, and then up very early with us again preparing the food.
We were always up so early, desperate to see what Santa had left, then we’d all play with our toys until it was time to get ready for Christmas lunch (it was always lunch, just after the Queen’s Speech). We would eat a fraction of the mountain of food my parents had made, and once our bellies were full we would gather for board games and the annual falling out that ensued whenever Monopoly made an appearance. They were really great times.
My fondest Christmas memory was definitely the last one with my Mum before she passed away. My husband and I were living overseas and my Mum had been ill for quite some time but we thought she was coming out the other side, she was still so young. We decided to come home for the festivities and rented a big old Mill House in Scotland, inviting my parents and my husband’s family. We all arrived on the 23rd of December, through horrendous weather, snow and really deep fog, in the dark, to a warm house with a lit inglenook fire and a ready decorated tree. We prepared nothing ourselves, it all came ready to cook (good old M&S!) and we laughed and ate, completely unaware that it would be my mother’s last Christmas with us.
This year’s Christmas plans
Last Christmas, for the first time in years we spent the festive season away from home. We had a lovely time but we definitely missed our own traditions. This year we have some family coming to stay, so the celebrations will start on Christmas Eve, with my own hot chocolate, boozy mince pies and some Christmas films, under a big woolly blanket. And of course, stockings on the fireplace! My step-children are in their 20’s now but we still have to make up the stockings, not sure that can ever stop! There are no young kids, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get up early to open presents. We do this while still in our PJ’s, sipping on bubbles and nibbling on some pastries.
There will be a long walk through the woods in our wellies before we all sit down to a large traditional lunch. It will end with everyone fighting over the comfiest sofas for a quick nap while watching some Christmas TV. We will all come together again for board games and drinks later in the evening.
We have more family coming on Boxing Day so there will be more of the same again. Family, food, drink and lots of laughs!
Christmas food and recipes
My family and I have a very traditional Christmas day. It starts with some pain au chocolat and croissants. For breakfast last year I made a brioche and crème anglaise French toast, served with caramelised bananas and Bucks Fizz. That usually sees us through to lunch, with many top ups of the Bucks Fizz! For lunch, we have a traditional roast Turkey, ALL the trimmings and a nut roast. I know some say it is very seventies to eat nut roast, but as a vegetarian I love it when it comes to that time of year and I can make myself a cashew, cranberry and butternut roast.
There will always be several desserts on the go after lunch – a festive chocolate entremet, clootie dumpling, which is a very old tradition in my family, and I cannot have Christmas without another eighties treat, Sherry Trifle! Everyone else in the house absolutely hates it but I make it anyway!
Many people will probably not know what a clootie dumpling is, but here is the recipe handed down from my grandmother for those that are curious – although this one has been modified by my uncle who is also a chef to make it lighter, and this is the one that we use today:
Clootie Dumpling recipe:
- 170 g plain flour
- 10 g baking powder
- 170 g brown breadcrumbs
- 170 g suet
- 5 g ground ginger
- 170 g sultanas
- 115 g currants
- 115 g soft dark brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons golden syrup
- 375 ml milk
- Place your cloot (a dishtowel, exactly like the Le Cordon Bleu white and blue ones) in boiling water.
- Mix all of the ingredients together with the milk to make a fairly soft consistency. Make sure everything is mixed well.
- Take the cloot out of the water and wring, then lay it out flat and dredge well with flour. Smooth the flour over the cloot with your hands to get an even spread. Place the mixture on the cloot, draw it together evenly, leaving room for expansion, and tie the cloot with string.
- Put a plate in the bottom of the pot and the cloot and mixture on top of that. Use a large pot, big enough to allow for the cloot to be covered with water. That way there will be no need to top up through the cooking. Simmer the dumpling for three hours. Remove from the pot and put it in a colander in the sink.
- Untie the string and gently pull the corners of the cloot apart. Put a plate over the dumpling in the colander and whip it over. Carefully peel the cloot away from one corner and you should have a dumpling.
- If it is not all finished on Christmas Day, it can also be enjoyed the next day for breakfast by heating up on a flat griddle.
Why Christmas is special
I love Christmas as you get to spend time with friends and family, and the people you love. Everyone coming together, talking over each other and laughing and eating. It is the one time of the year when nobody is rushing off to work or stressing about life. Everyone is helping out and getting in the way. It is complete chaos but you know you wouldn’t change it for anything!
This Christmas story was written in loving memory of Ailsa’s grandmother, Catherine.