Finally, it’s Christmas! Uncertain Covid restrictions still linger but not so uncertain to cancel Christmas. I am flying to Italy soon despite the Omicron variant and possible partial lockdown. Everything is ready: the presents are wrapped and packed, the boarding passes are printed, the Christmas cards are on their way, lights are on and I am longing to see my Italian family again after two years. My sons and my daughter will come too so we will have a big family party.
In the past two weeks I had enough time to go out two days to visit exhibitions and attend shows in London and in Woking. I couldn’t miss Snow White, the panto at the New Victoria Theatre, with Gok Wan, Harriet Thorpe and Aaron James. It was such fun though but there were no drag queens, and I missed their presence. I loved singing along and the 12 Days of Christmas bit was cracking. I also attended Aladdin by Ben Crocker presented by Send Amateur Dramatic Society at Lancaster Hall in Send. It was a performance for families packed with puns, jokes, songs and dances. I loved the warm and enchanting atmosphere and I felt part of it. I especially liked the psychic snake, a puppet that played jokes to the Baddies of the story. I also attended the amazing The Wife of Willesden adapted by Zadie Smith from Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath at the Kiln theatre in Kilburn, London, here is my review of it: https://londongrip.co.uk/2021/12/the-wife-of-willesden-review-by-carla-scarano/
A Christmas Carol at the Old Vic was a mesmerising show. The story follows Dickens' plot but was adapted by Jack Thorne. Little variations emphasise how Scrooge after all has his own reasons and adjusted himself to the ruthless rules of the world of business, or he wouldn’t have succeeded. He is responsible for his behaviour of course, but he is not alone in the guilt of his actions. Eventually his conversion is sincere, and he shares his wealth with the poor in the form of food and giving money to charity. The stage was inundated by fake sausages, potatoes and oranges and artificial snow fell from the ceiling. Traditional Christmas carols, such as Joy to the World and Christ is Born in Bethlehem, end the show in a celebration of Christmas that supports the dispossessed and marginalised people. Sharing seems to be the solution to exploitation of the other, that is the quickest way to make big money. I do not believe in ghosts, and watching the play and revisiting the old story I was wondering if the ‘ghosts’ could be interpreted as Scrooge’s neighbours in disguise. Their intent is to scare him and show his shameful behaviour in order to eventually convince him to share his wealth with them. Justice is finally restored in this timeless story of redemption.
I also managed to squeeze two visits at the Nova Cinema in Woking to watch the new Disney film Encanto and The Nutcracker screening live from the Royal Opera House. Tchaikovsky music is ravishing and unforgettable. The distant aristocratic setting of the first act and the unreal winter wonderland of the following part are made real and believable by the splendid music. It endlessly surprises, captures and makes the listener dream. The dancers’ performances were outstanding in the new choreography by Peter Wright; their complex pirouettes and daring jumps looked effortless and tremendously graceful.
I enjoyed Encanto as well, a story about immigration, family power and diversity. Imperfections are celebrated in their creative and original side. Ancestral magic mixes with rivalries and jealousies, affirming a wish to maintain traditions in a world that changes. The community spirit wins at the end, people help one another becoming aware that we cannot survive alone or isolated from others. Adaptation and compromise with diversity seems to be the central message, that is, to be yourself but adjust to different situations too. All these stories end well or happily in a Christmas spirit of reconciliation and mutual help. This makes me think about the people who are less lucky and whose life has no happy ending, as it often happens in our sometimes-grim reality.
As a Christmas treat, I bought the new book of recipes by Nadiya Hussain, Nadiya’s fast Flavours. Her recipes are inspiring, original and so well explained. Her chocolate salami is superb and the idea of recipes that are ‘fast in speed [and] in flavour’ is just great. She is happy to use tinned food and leftovers too. She cleverly divided the book in sections such as herby, spicy, cheesy, nutty, etc., where you can find whatever you need from meat to pasta and pudding according to the flavour you wish to taste.
I also tried new cakes and biscuits inspired by recipes friends posted on Facebook and puddings I tasted in restaurants. The results were good and here they are.
Nadiya’s Chocolate salami
You need: 200 g of shortbread biscuits, 100 g of nuts, ½ tsp of ground ginger, grated zest of an orange or a lemon, a pinch of salt, 100 g of melted butter, 250 g of dark chocolate, 100 ml of milk, icing sugar for dusting, some chopped dried fruit.
You can use short bread biscuits or another kind of biscuits, like ginger nuts biscuits or digestives. About nuts, I used walnuts and pistachios (Nadiya ha macadamia nuts), but you can use whatever you like. You can also add more spices and/or crystallized ginger. About dried fruit I used dried apricots. First chop the biscuits, the chocolate and nuts. Warm the chocolate in a pan adding the milk, ginger and salt, the zest of a lemon or orange and butter. Let it cool and add the biscuits and the dried fruit too. Take a large sheet of cling film, double it up and spread the mixture lengthways and roll it in sausage shape, then wrap it in a foil too. Close the ends and chill overnight. Before serving dust with icing sugar.
Prince William’s ‘groom’s cake’
You need: 200 g of Rich Tea biscuits, 100 g of melted butter, 100 g of caster sugar, 100 g of chopped dark chocolate, five tbsp of warm water. Some berries to decorate.
For the chocolate ganache you need: 150 g of chopped dark chocolate, 150 g of whipping cream.
Line a springform cake tin with parchment paper. Chop the biscuits and mix the sugar with the butter. Melt the chocolate in the microwave and mix it with the butter and sugar mixture. Add the water to the biscuits and stir with a wooden spoon. Pour the biscuit and chocolate mixture in the cake tin, push it even and chill for one hour. Prepare the ganache warming the cream then pour it on the chopped chocolate and stir until the chocolate is melted. Coat the cake with the chocolate and cream ganache and sprinkle some berries on top. Chill for half an hour before serving.
Here are two chocolate recipes ideal for Christmas time:
Chocolate raspberry and ricotta brownies
You need: 150 g of dark brown sugar, 100 g of dark chocolate, parchment paper, 100 ml of milk, two eggs, 50 g of cocoa powder, 60 g of ground almonds, a pinch of salt, 100 g of raspberries, 150 g of ricotta, 50 g of melted butter, 100 g of self-raising flour.
Warm the butter and the chocolate in a saucepan, add the milk and let it cool. Whisk in the eggs and then add the rest of the ingredients except the ricotta and keep a few raspberries apart. Pour the chocolate mixture into a baking rectangular tin lined with parchment paper. Finally beat the ricotta with some milk and fold it into the mixture. Scatter the remaining raspberries on top. Bake at 180 C for 30 minutes or until the biscuits look settled. Let it cool and cut into squares before serving.
Chocolate and caramel cake
For the cake you need: 200 g of self-rising flour, 50 g of cocoa powder, 1 tsp of baking powder, ½ tsp of bicarbonate of soda, two eggs, 100 g of melted butter, 150 g of dark brown sugar, 50 g of dark chocolate chips, some milk and liquor.
For the caramel you need: one tbsp of glucose, 50 g of double cream, 50 g of dark chocolate.
Beat the eggs and the sugar, add the melted butter and the flour. Mix the baking powder and the bicarbonate of soda in half a glass of milk and pour it in the cake mixture. Finally add the chocolate chips and the liquor. Bake at 180 C for 30-45 minutes and let it cool. Prepare the caramel warming the ingredients in a saucepan and let it cool. Chill for half an hour and then spread the chocolate mixture on the cake. Decorate with sprinkles and chill before serving.
Venetian zabaglione cake
You need: 200 g of self-rising flour, 1 tsp of baking powder, ½ tsp of bicarbonate of soda, two eggs, 100 g of melted butter, 100 g of golden caster sugar, some drops of vanilla extracts.
For the zabaglione filling you need: three egg yolks, 100 g of sugar, one tbsp of flour, 150 ml of marsala, 300 g of double cream.
Prepare the zabaglione beating the egg yolks with an electric whisk then add the sugar and whisk again for a few minutes. Add the flour and keep whisking. Finally add marsala and warm the mixture in a saucepan till it thickens. Let it cool and prepare the cake by beating the eggs and the sugar. Add the butter and the flour together with the rest of the ingredients. If the mixture is too thick add some milk. Bake at 180 C for 30-45 minutes in a greased cake tin then let it cool. Whisk the cream and fold in the zabaglione mixture. Cut the cake in two halves and wet them with milk and water. Spread part of the zabaglione and cream mixture over one half of the cake and place the other half on top. Coat the cake with the rest of the cream and decorate with sprinkles.
I found beautiful biscuit cutters in a Danish shop in Woking and used the traditional gingerbread recipe for the biscuits:
You need: 250 g of self-rising flour, one egg, a pinch of salt, three tsp of ground ginger, 50 g of melted butter, 100 g of sugar, four tbsp of milk.
Mix the eggs and the sugar, add the butter and the rest of the ingredients. Roll out the dough and cut it with a biscuit cutter. Place the biscuits on a greased oven tray and bake at 180 C for 10-15 minutes or till ready.
This is a traditional Dutch recipe for Christmas time a friend of mine posted on Facebook:
You need: 250 g of self-rising flour, 150 g of soft brown sugar, two eggs, 100 g of melted butter, 50 ml of milk, 2 tsp of spice mix (ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, ground cloves, some white pepper, ground ginger).
Mix the eggs with the sugar and flour. Add the rest of the ingredients and knead the dough. Add some more flour if necessary, to make the dough smooth. Grease an oven tray and roll small balls with the dough. Set them on the tray and bake for 10-15 minutes or till ready at 180 C.
We tasted these final two desserts in an Italian restaurant, and I tried to put the recipes together:
Nutellamisú (tiramisú with Nutella)
For the sponge you need: 250 g of self-rising flour, 150 g of sugar, one tsp of baking powder, four eggs, 30 g of melted butter, some drops of vanilla essence.
For the nutellamisú cream you need: 250 g of mascarpone, two eggs divided, two tbsp of sugar, three tbsp of Nutella.
Some crumbled chocolate biscuits for the top.
Prepare the sponge whisking the eggs and sugar for 10 minutes. Fold in the rest of the ingredients and bake in a greased cake tin at 180 C for 30-45 minutes then let it cool. Prepare the nutellamisú cream whisking the yolk of the eggs with the sugar. Add the mascarpone and Nutella. Whisk the whites until stiff and add them to the Nutella and mascarpone cream too. Prepare some coffee or decaf coffee and mix it with some water. Cut the sponge in vertical slices and place a layer in a rectangular glass or plastic food container. Wet it with the coffee and spread the cream on it. Crush the chocolate biscuits and sprinkle them on top. Chill overnight before serving.
Cheesecake with ricotta and pistachio
You need: 200 g of digestive biscuits, 100 g of melted butter, 250 g of ricotta, 2tbsp of pistachio spread, 100 g of sugar, 600 ml of whipping cream, 150 g of ground pistachio.
This cake is composed of two layers. First prepare the base by crushing 100 g of digestives and mix it with the butter. Spread the mixture on the base of a springform cake tin and chill it. In the meantime, whip the cream with the sugar, add the pistachio spread, 100 g of the ground pistachio and ricotta. Spread half of the cream, ricotta and pistachio mixture on the base of the cake and sprinkle 100 g of ground digestive on the cream layer. Spread the rest of the cream mixture on the cake and finally sprinkle the rest of the ground pistachios on top. Chill for at least 4 hours before serving.
Have a lovely Christmas time 😍🎄🎅🤞