This is my very first Christmas in Paris and my first Christmas away from my family home in the countryside in Ireland. During my college years and my working life in London and my six years living in Paris, I have always made it back home. This year for very special circumstances (I am 39 weeks pregnant), I will be celebrating Christmas in Paris!
I have no idea what to expect! It will be quiet, no festive craziness brought on by too many mulled wines! There are no grand plans, only to make our apartment feel as cosy and as festive as possible! Hunt down the perfect tree from Rue Cler, stock up on food and goodies from the local markets and our friendly commercants close by. Burn pomegranate scented candles from Sicily, watch old Christmas movies and bring some of those special traditions from home to the table.
I will miss most the warmth and laughter of being surrounded by family and friends back home. I will also miss preparing mince-pies with my Mom in the kitchen served up with gaelic coffees and of course those sips of Guinness, the magical atmosphere, and the traditional music! On the other side, I am also curious to experience Paris at this time of year and allow for those new and unexpected moments to unfold here…
For me, the precious part of Christmas is being close to the people I love, celebrating traditions, taking time for my own rituals and creating some new ones! This Christmas eve, our sleeves will be rolled up, eating chunks of panettone and we will spend the morning preparing a festive feast in our little Parisian kitchen. In the afternoon, I will wrap presents, sip (literally) pink champagne and listen to the BBC’s coverage of ‘A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols’ live from King’s College Cambridge. Then we will venture out, soak up the atmosphere on Rue Cler, pick up the last few things; cheese from Griffon, smoked salmon from Autour du Saumon, and collect our Bouche de Noël from Jean Paul Hevin.
Our menu for Christmas day has been planned around bringing together French, Irish and British traditions: oysters and smoked salmon with pink champagne to start, moving on to the traditional turkey, brussels sprouts and cranberry sauce, followed by a spiced festive fruit salad and a chocolate ‘Bouche de Noël’ (a traditional French christmas dessert I am dying to try). Later when friends pop round we will serve up Gaelic cafés with hazelnut and chocolate meringues. Gaelic cafés are really easy to make and taste really rich and decadent and are great at this time of year! Ideally I would serve with mince-pies but as an after dinner or late afternoon drink, the light fluffy meringues (also gluten-free) are a great accompaniment and taste so good dipped into the coffees! So to say Bonne Fête, I thought I would share with you two of my favourite festive treats with you! And wish you a ‘Joyeux Noël!’
Hazelnut & Chocolate Meringues
You will need:
60g / 2oz of hazelnuts, 4 egg whites (preferably organic free-range), 230g / 8oz of icing sugar (sieved), 1 tea-spoon of white-wine-vinegar, 1 vanilla bean split, 1 tea spoon of vanilla essence. A couple of squares or organic dark chocolate roughly chopped.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/ 350°F/Gas mark 4. Place the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and roast until they are golden. Line two baking trays with grease proof paper. Remove hazelnuts from oven, set to cool, and roll in a clean tea-towel to remove skins. Blend into a fine powder and keep a few aside for decoration.
Place egg whites and sugar in a mixing bowl / blender and blend until you achieve snowy mountain peaks! I use a bowl and a hand-held blender which works well but if you have an industrial blender even better. (Make sure your bowl and equipment are squeaky clean as the mixture will collapse otherwise) Gently add the vinegar, vanilla seeds, and vanilla essence.
Fold in the hazelnut mix but be careful not to collapse the meringue peaks. Place into a piping bag and pipe meringues on to the baking trays. Reduce oven temperature to 150°c / 300°c / gas mark 2. Bake in the oven for 45 mins aiming for a crispy exterior and soft interior. Leave to cool. Roughly chop leftover hazelnuts and chocolate and sprinkle over. Serve with gaelic cafés or as a desert with a fromage blanc / coconut yoghurt (dairyfree option) and red berries of choice. Et voilà!
You will need:
Fresh nutmeg / dark chocolate. 1 1/2 tbsp coarse brown sugar. 1 measure whiskey. 4 tbsp semi-whipped fresh cream. 1 cup hot high quality coffee.
Heat a thick-bottomed pan over a medium heat. Grate fresh nutmeg into the pan. Sprinkle 1 1/2 tablespoons of coarse brown sugar evenly across the pan — the sugar will begin to melt and caramelise. Once the sugar is caramelized, add two tablespoons of hot coffee and swirl it around the pan. Now add a measure of Whiskey, pour in the remainder of the hot coffee and mix. Transfer the mixture to a glass and top with semi-whipped cream. Use a spoon to slide cream to the side of the glass so to sit well. (This is the tricky part!) . Garnish with a little more freshly grated nutmeg or grated chocolate et voilà.