Some people think Christmas is all about the giving. Personally, I think it’s all about the free licence with food and drink. Not to overdo things, of course, but just to push the boat out a little and indulge in some foodstuffs you wouldn’t usually have in the house.
On Christmas Eve I made a cheesecake for the following day’s dessert, and cinnamon buns for the next morning’s breakfast.
I’ve never made a baked cheesecake before (the only kind, in the eyes of Americans, but an Irish cheesecake is an unbaked, chilled affair that’s like a firm mousse on top of a crumb base, often lemon flavoured. It can be delicious in its place, but I wanted the richer, slightly crumbly texture of the item we first discovered in Milano of Dawson Street, where it was billed as New York Cheesecake. (In the UK, the Milano chain has the much less enticing name of Pizza Express. It’s much nicer than that.)
I used this recipe from my friend Jennifer, because I trust her for matters great and small, from watching my kids to helping people birth their babies (she’s a doula) to creating and recommending recipes for most excellent baked goods. It was simplicity itself to whip up (especially since I own both a food processor for the base and a stand mixer for the filling) and turned out every bit as toothsome as I had hoped. I prefer the taste of a digestive-biscuit base to the graham-cracker one, but that’s probably just what I’m more accustomed to. (And also because Digestives are nicer.)
The only part that made me swear unbecomingly was lining my springform pan with parchment paper, which I only felt the need to do because the non-stick coating is peeling away in places and I don’t want to ingest any teflon with my cheesecake.
Jennifer doesn’t mention that when you remove it from the oven it will have puffed up amazingly, but it sinks back down again as it cools, because most people probably know that already. This is totally normal, as are any cracks that might develop in the centre (but I think that if I’d run my knife around the edges immediately, as she suggests, it wouldn’t have cracked so much). That went into the fridge overnight, and dessert for the next day was all taken care of.
For the cinnamon buns, I used the dough in this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, with the variation for apple cinnamon buns that you’ll find in the notes at the end, though I didn’t include the apple. I used plain yogurt instead of buttermilk, and they came out every bit as delicious as Deb promises. I made the dough, let it rise for two hours (I was afraid at this stage that it wasn’t working, because it didn’t rise enormously; but all was well), and then made up the buns and left them in the fridge overnight for their second rise, as instructed. In the morning when we came down blearily at 7am (thank you, Mabel, for not waking at 5:30), all I had to do was turn on the oven and put them into it. We didn’t even bother with icing on top. They made an excellent start to the day, though so did presents.
Lunch was catch-as-catch-can, because I don’t see why people who are getting fancy breakfast and fancy dinner, earlier than usual, even, should have the temerity to get hungry in the middle of the day as well. If we’d had guests I might have made some sort of effort to have soup on hand to warm up at this point. As it was, leftovers from two nights previous were just fine.
And then for dinner.
I’d been thinking about beef wellington, which sounds – and looks – wonderfully impressive; but with only two of us eating (the children scorn real food) that seemed like overkill. Then the lovely Deborah of Debalicious told me that there was such a thing as an individual wellington made with a sirloin (or filet mignon) steak. And that some recipe used pate or fois gras instead of the mushroom duxelles. I was sold.
I read through several recipes and ended up using this one from Emeril, but not for much more than guidance about method and timing, really. I had read that the mushroom duxelles is all about adding flavor to a cut of meat so lean that it can be flavorless by itself. B doesn’t like mushrooms, but I decided to use a layer of caramelized onion, deglazed with vermouth, instead. I found some duck liver pate in the local supermarket, so that was my top layer, and I used frozen ready-made puff pastry to wrap up the barely seared steaks. (Next time I will remember to defrost the pastry before I need it.)
The thing I was most afraid of was overcooking them, because when you have an expensive cut of beef the worst thing you can do is waste it by turning it tough and grey. I cooked it for barely the required 20 minutes and rested it for ten, and the inside was quite pink. Maybe a tiny bit too pink, if I’m honest. The pastry was also not quite as crisp all over as I’d have liked; I put it down to not having been thoroughly defrosted. But in all, for a first attempt, it was quite a success. B certainly cleared his plate in no time flat. He’s a good audience that way.
I served it with lemony green beans (Nigella, Feast) and amazing roast potatoes, if I do say so myself, which may not have been a strictly necessary carb, but are the one part of real Christmas that we can’t do without.
And then cheesecake, perfectly unadorned.
Later, to fill in any tiny gaps around the edges that might have developed, there was Christmas cake. I don’t like Christmas cake myself, but reports from the front line are favourable.