Mary Berry has made her name teaching generations to cook. And with more than 75 recipe books to her name, it’s fair to say a good number of us will not only be receiving her culinary words of wisdom in our stockings this year, but also dishing up her irresistible seasonal suggestions with our own Christmas meals.
The 81-year-old does, however, have an admission to make when it comes to Christmas within her own four walls: “It’s far more about the family than the food.” In fact, her favourite festive memory is when her children – Thomas, Annabel and William (who died aged 20 after a car accident in 1989) – were young.
“It’s when our three children did entertainment at Christmas at my mother’s – Granny and Grandpa’s…” she smiles. “They’d dress up, do songs and panto-type things. We’d got our coffee and the children were centre stage and it was lovely.
”And this year,” she adds, “I can’t wait for the grandchildren to entertain us after Christmas dinner.”
In the meantime, Mary – alongside fellow judge Paul Hollywood and presenters Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins – will be entertaining the nation together one final time (before the show moves to Channel 4 with a new team) in two seasonal specials of our favourite show, The Great Christmas Bake Off.
In a break from yuletide masterclasses of earlier years, eight past GBBO bakers have been asked to do battle once more in the white tent. Mary says:
“I can’t tell you how exciting it was for us to do these shows. We had a wonderful Salvation Army band playing carols, which made us feel very Christmassy, and it was brilliant because we had a say in who was coming back. And they were thrilled to be back. We had eight bakers and they’re great characters.”
Both Mary and Paul loved catching up with the former contestants again. “It was so much fun to do – funnier than normal. And we didn’t have any disasters. Although the challenges were taxing, these guys know exactly what works. We had great bakes: cakes, pies, pastries, canapés,” adds Paul.
So who’s back to bake another day? In the first special, it’s Mary-Anne Boermans (series two), Ali Imdad (series four), Cathryn Dresser (series four) and Norman Calder (series five). In the second, it’s Chetna Makan (series five), Howard Middleton (series four), James Morton (series three) and Janet Basu (series two).
The Bake Off shows, with all the gang together for the last time, are sure to be a fundamental part of our Christmas telly, but what of Mary’s own festivities? What’s on the menu? Mary admits, hers is “fairly classic”.
”We’ve had goose, we’ve had turkey, but we’ve come back to turkey because everybody seems to like it. We also have a ham. And I make a very light Christmas cake because we don’t like the very rich one – it hangs around ’til Easter! We do royal icing and I always bring out the same decorations to go on the top. I love Christmas and look forward to the whole family getting together. It’s about being with your loved ones. Christmas is a time for celebration, family, laughter… and good food, of course!”
Mary's top Christmas tips
- Prepare a lot in advance to make life easier on the day. On Christmas Eve, I make the sausage stuffing and gravy from the giblet stock I will have made and frozen the bread sauce. The veg will have been part boiled.
- If you’re having trifle try to make that the day before too, so the flavours can steep. But don’t add the whipped cream and almond topping until the day.
- If you’re making Genoa Cake as a lighter alternative to traditional Christmas cake, make sure the cherries are quartered, rinsed and dried thoroughly to ensure they don’t sink. Make sure the cake mixture is fairly stiff, too. That helps stop the fruit dropping to the bottom.
- The best advice I can give to the cook on the day is not to panic – try to treat it as a bigger roast chicken lunch. I normally have about 12 around the table, so I work out on a sheet of paper what I am going to serve and the timings and then I don’t worry. I will have made my Christmas pudding and cake in November. And I try to make mince pies ahead and put them in the freezer.
- If you’re going to make canapés, work to a maximum of five per person and keep them small. Dips are incredibly easy to make with raw veg as crudites.
- We’ve shown how to make puff pastry countless times on The Great British Bake Off and Masterclasses, but as Christmas is an incredibly busy time for everybody, make life easier for yourself by using shop-bought puff pastry. You can use it in countless Christmas savouries.
- Be sure to have enough tin foil and clingfilm in case the shops are shut over the Christmas holiday.
- For more star chat get the latest copy of Yours magazine, out every fortnight on a Tuesday