Five recipes to give Christmas Eve a true continental flavour
Restaurateurs, chefs and hoteliers from Denmark, Portugal, France and Spain share their traditions
Christmas Eve dining traditions are different from country to country. Photograph: iStock/Getty
Every country has its Christmas Eve culinary traditions. Hospitality workers based in Ireland but from abroad share their personal experiences and recipes for their December 24th meals.
Majken Bech Bailey
General manager, Aimsir, Co Kildare
Christmas dinner in Denmark is very different from the ones we know here in Ireland. We celebrate Christmas on the 24th, in the evening, with roasted duck and caramelized potato, which is basically peeled new potatoes cooked in caramel. For dessert, there is no Christmas cake or pudding at the table, but instead one of my favourite desserts, risealamand, a rice pudding with cherries.
For the rice pudding:
2.25 cups short-grained white rice (pudding rice)
1 cup water
1 litre milk
2 vanilla beans (the seeds only)
For the risalamande:
2 tbsp sugar
5 cups heavy cream
1 can cherries in syrup (for topping)
For the rice (to be cooked the day before).
1 Add rice and water to a saucepan. Heat up and let it boil for about two minutes.
2 Add the milk to the pudding and heat until boiling, stirring constantly.
3 Add the seeds from the vanilla beans. This is done by slicing the vanilla beans and scraping out the seeds using a knife. Mix the vanilla with 2 tablespoons of sugar. Also, add the empty vanilla beans to the pudding (they still have a lot of flavour). Let the pudding simmer under a lid at low heat. The rice has a tendency to burn to the saucepan so remember to stir regularly. Let it simmer for about 35 minutes.
4 Remove the vanilla beans. The rice pudding is now done. Let it cool in the fridge before you proceed to make the risalamande the next day.
5 Heat some water until boiling and pour it in a small bowl. Add the almonds and let them soak in the hot water for about 5-7 minutes. One-by-one take the almonds and press them between two fingers so that the peel separates from the almond. Add more hot water if needed. It should be easy to skin the almonds.
6 Coarsely chop the almonds and mix them with the cold rice pudding
7 In a separate bowl, whisk the heavy cream with the sugar into whipped cream and gently mix it with the rice pudding. The risalamande is now done. Put it in the fridge until serving.
8 Serve the risalamande with some warm cherries in syrup. Add a splash of brandy or cherry liqueur to taste. If you want to play the traditional Danish almond-game (mandelgave), leave a whole almond without the skin in the risalamande - whoever gets the whole almond wins a small prize.
Food and beverage services manager, Cliff House Hotel, Co Waterford
I am from a small village 50km outside of the city of Porto, with a small population of about 1,400 people. My mum and dad and most of my extended family on both sides still live there. For our family, Christmas Eve is just as, if not more important than Christmas day.
A traditional Christmas eve for the Saraiva family is a gathering in one of our homes and they will cook various sweets and confections all through the day. This would be a common practice for Christmas Eve among families in the north. The entire family assists, dropping in and out of the kitchen. The recipes are varied among families and quite different to anything I have ever seen in Ireland.
We make one with sliced bread soaked in wine, deep fried and then finished with cinnamon and sugar. But my favourite of all is the bilharacos – fritters made with pumpkin or butternut squash.
500g pumpkin, peeled, seeded and chopped
70ml red port wine
300g pine nuts
½ tsp baking powder
Icing sugar with sprinkling of cinnamon powder to dust
1 Boil the pumpkin in salted water for 15 minutes, or until the flesh is soft. When boiled and cooled, place in muslin cloth and squeeze as much of the water out as possible. Reserve the cooked flesh and either mash manually into puree or you could use a hand blender. Ensure puree is completely cold.
2 Add four eggs into the puree. Add the flour, baking powder, sugar and port and mix together. Mix in the pine nuts and leave to stand for one hour.
3 Mould them into quenelles/croquette type shapes and deep fry in small batches in fresh oil until golden.
4 Roll them in icing sugar and cinnamon to finish. We usually serve these later in the evening so they are cold – although Mum will always have to shoo us away when they are still warm as they are really delicious when they first come out of the fryer.
General manager, Imperial Hotel, Cork
The tradition in Provence, where I spent most of my childhood is Les Treize Desserts de Noël which translated means the 13 desserts of Christmas. I absolutely adore it and make sure to respect it every single year.
Les Treize Desserts de Noël are enjoyed after our Christmas Eve supper and these 13 desserts represent Jesus and his twelve apostles at the Last Supper.
There must always be 13 desserts, but the composition varies greatly from village to village, family to family and generation to generation. However, they will always be served at the same time, on the same table and each guest must have at least a small taste of each dessert.
The food traditionally is set out on Christmas Eve and remains there for
three days until December 27th, but in my home it is left until January 6th the Epiphany. This allows the family to nibble as they pass the table during the entire season.
Traditionally the 13 desserts would consist of the following:
1-4: The first four are “les quatres mendiants”. These four beggars represent monastic communities - walnuts or hazelnuts symbolizing the order of St Augustin, almonds for the Carmelites, raisins for the Dominicans, and dry figs for the Franciscans.
5: Pompe à l’huile is an olive oil flatbread eaten with grape jam made during the last harvest season. The tradition is to break the bread into individual servings with the fingers, rather than cut the bread with a knife. This is said to protect your wealth from bankruptcy in the coming year.
6-7: Two nougats are next. White symbolises good (made with pine nuts, pistachio and hazelnuts) and black nougat for evil (made with caramelized honey cooked with almonds).
The rest can vary considerably according to the region, but they could include dates (perhaps stuffed with marzipan) representing the foods of the region where Christ lived and died. Dried plums from Brignoles, Calisson d’aix en Provence (a marzipan-like candy made from almond paste and candied melon) and Casse-dents of Allauch – a biscuit. Cumin and fennel seed biscuits. And finally, a platter of fresh seasonal fruit usually counts as one dessert, and is always served. It can be a selection of oranges (a sign of wealth), apples, pears, Christmas melon, plums and grapes.
Pompe à l’Huile is the recipe I’m choosing to share and is delicious for breakfast or with a glass of Cognac for the adults. However, for the children, there is a catch. In some households, the children are not able to start eating until they can name all 13 desserts of Christmas on display. Which I very quickly learned, believe me.
Pompe à l’huile
250g all-purpose wheat flour
50g water at room temperature
50g orange or mandarin juice
Zest of one orange
A drop of Pastis 51 or Ricard (anis liqueurs made in the South of France)
75g olive oil
50g stiff starter
3g fresh yeast (or one teaspoon, half a sachet, of dried yeast instead of the starter and fresh yeast)
1 Mix all the ingredients together. I use an electric mixer but my granny will do it all by hand - what a woman.
2 Let the mixture rest for two hours in the fridge. Take it out and shape it into a ball and let it rest for one more hour.
3 On a floured workbench, roll the dough to a diameter of around 22cm.
4 With a dough scraper, make six cuts on the dough.
5 Let it prove for two hours in a hot space, then bake at 200°C for around 20 minutes.
6 Take it out and let it cool down on a tray.
Executive pastry chef, Adare Manor, Co Limerick
I’m Barcelona based, from the Catalan region of Spain, where we have similar traditions to the rest of Spain. We usually gather on the 24th, Christmas Eve, and celebrate with our closest family and friends.
In my house, we usually have the tradition of doing prawns on the grill and as dessert, we take out an array of turrones or nougat, we have a huge selection back home of different flavours, from more traditional such as almond nougat to a lot more modern which include mixtures of tempered chocolate and different pralines and flavours of all types.
150g toasted almonds
150g toasted hazelnuts
2 sheets of edible rice paper (20x20cm)
150g honey (preferably flower-based honey)
300g caster sugar
100g liquid glucose
100g egg white (egg white from 2 eggs)
1tsp vanilla extract or 1 vanilla bean
1 Pour the egg whites in a clean bowl of a stand mixer with a whisk attachment and start whipping it lightly.
2 Bring the caster sugar, 100ml of water, liquid glucose and honey to 125 degrees Celsius in a saucepan and pour it slowly into the mixer with the whites mixing (slow down the machine when pouring in the hot liquid) and then put it back to medium speed to cool down slowly as it keeps whipping for about 10 minutes.
3 When the mix is whipped and just warm, pour in the toasted nuts and vanilla extract, and fold them in carefully with a spatula.
4 Pour onto one sheet of rice paper and once all the mix is on, place the other sheet on top and press to make it compact and even throughout.
5 Let it rest at room temperature for 3-5 hours and then you can cut it with a sharp knife to your desired size.
Owner of Heart of Spain
In Spain, Christmas Eve is known as Nochebuena. Most families in Spain eat their main Christmas meal on Christmas Eve, before they go to midnight mass or visit friends and other family members. To start we always have a variety of local cheeses, meats and a homemade pate on the table, to graze on with a glass of wine while we wait for the main meal to be served.
Duck liver pate (Foie de pato al Pedro Ximenez)
9 oz fresh duck liver
1 tablespoon sea salt and water for soaking
1 level teaspoon salt
1/2 level teaspoon black pepper
9 oz streaky, fresh bacon
9 oz lean pork
4 tablespoons brandy de Jerez
4 tablespoons Pedro Ximénez Sherry
Crusty bread for serving
1 Cover the liver with cold water, a few ice cubes and the sea salt. Place in refrigerator and leave for two hours for the blood to soak out. Then drain, dry with kitchen paper, remove any veins etc, and dice.
2 Dice the bacon and pork and fry in a lightly greased pan. After five minutes, place the liver on top and fry lightly. Season, pour over the brandy de Jerez and, when hot, flambé.
3 Remove from heat and add the Pedro Ximenez. Stir, leave to cool, then blend in a food processor.
4 Transfer the mixture to a sheet of cling film, form into a roll and tie up the ends. Refrigerate for a minimum of 24 hours and a maximum of eight days.
5 Spread onto crusty bread and serve with your favourite olives, cheese or other nibbles.