The Fabulous Baker Brothers give us their guide to hosting big Christmas gatherings on a budget
Best known as The Fabulous Baker Brothers, with a Channel 4 series of the same name, Tom and Henry Herbert are bundles of energy. With five generations of baking heritage, they are experts at putting cool twists on traditional British fare — and “naff nibbles” are strictly off their party menu.
“Christmas is about celebration,” says Tom, 35, eldest of the six Herbert siblings. Henry, 25, adds: “It is all about overindulgence. Healthy regimes go out of the window. We soak up the festive cheer with family and friends and forget everyday stress.”
Londoners hosting big Christmas gatherings on limited budgets can learn plenty of tricks from these boys. This year the pair are expecting 28 people for Christmas lunch.
“It won’t be chilled but it doesn’t have to be stressful,” insists Henry, who was head chef at Clerkenwell’s renowned Coach & Horses gastropub before he took over the family’s Hobbs House Butchery in the Cotswolds in 2010. “A big tip is never to shy away from asking friends or family to chip in.”
If you are doing a Christmas lunch, he suggests banning the traditional roast turkey. “Why not try a Christmas barbecue instead? Or roast two huge geese, stuffed with sage and orange. Chips cooked in goose fat can replace roast potatoes.”
After the main course the brothers produce a “booze-filled” trifle, a flaming Christmas pudding and an abundance of stilton and cheddar cheeses — “the stronger the better”.
They flambé their carefully steamed home-made pudding — but you can pour warm brandy over a good-quality shop-bought pudding heated in a microwave and then light it with a taper.
When sourcing ingredients, the Herberts keep it local. And they insist that young Londoners keen to limit the cost of their Christmas lunch should forget the supermarkets and visit independent shops and their nearest markets.
“I totally see how people would want to just get the ready-made stuff to take a bit of the stress away,” says Henry. “But sourcing your own ingredients is better value and tastier.”
Tom, who has spent years tracking down independent retailers, adds: “If you have put a tiny bit of effort into sourcing your food, when you get friends together it is really nice to relay stories of where it has all come from. It brings the party to life.” The brothers have a few favourite sources, including Trealy Farm for charcuterie and The Wild Beer Company, who brew their “sensational” ales in old wine and whisky barrels.
“We haven’t got super kitchens. We keep it simple and just have one oven,” says Tom. “But the best food can come out of the most basic kitchens if you stock well.”
Figs in pigs
When friends come round for a festive feast, it is always good to have tasty bites for them to snack on while the main event is being prepared.
Figs in pigs are the brothers’ take on pigs in blankets and are simple, cheap and quick to make. Cut fresh figs down the middle, stuff them with goats cheese, wrap them in really thin bacon and bake them. They look stunning and hot figs, melted cheese and bacon makes for a delicious mix.
For a more decorative take, cut the figs down the stalks to make four sharp points and sprinkle edible gold on each point so they look like crowns, symbolising the Three Kings. They don’t have to be served hot. In fact, it’s nicer if they are just warm. You could pop them in the oven 10 minutes before your guests are due and if some people are late, it’s not going to matter.
Pork and black pudding sausage rolls
Preheat your oven to 190C. In a large bowl, mix 500g of pork mince, 200g of black pudding with parsley, sage, mace, cayenne pepper and mustard with a pinch of salt and black pepper. Mix and squidge together. Roll a 500g packet of shop-bought puff pastry out into a large rectangle. Put the filling down the middle in a sausage shape, roll the pastry over the meat, square off the ends and turn the roll over so the fold is underneath. Divide into six then slash each sausage roll a few times and brush with a beaten egg. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes until golden brown.
The boys are always conscious that sticking to original Christmas recipes can be a little boring, so they love throwing something fun into the mix. Venison koftas are ideal for parties. They are high in protein and delicious. Get venison mince from a butcher, mix it up with spices, garlic and onions, shape on to a kebab stick and grill. It’s that simple.
If you are catering for a big bunch, chocolate pots are easy and inexpensive treats. Preheat the oven to 180C. Over a gentle flame, heat a pan of water until just simmering. Place 250g butter and 500g chocolate in a metal bowl and cover with cling film, then place on the pan and let the steam melt the chocolate. Using an electric mixer, beat 250g sugar and 10 egg yolks until they are pale and fluffy. This will take about 10 minutes.
Pour in the melted chocolate and butter, continuing to beat until smooth. In another mixer, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. Using a metal spoon, gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Put a few raspberries into the bottom of 12 greased ramekins then spoon the mixture on top. Bake for 12 minutes until the tops have slightly risen. The centre will be really runny and tasty.
Or you could cheat a little. Renters could save themselves the hassle of making a Christmas pudding from scratch by buying a really good ready-made one from a bakery. The brothers make their Hobbs House puddings in September — “the older, the better”. It is often just a matter of putting them in the microwave for about three minutes and you can enjoy drinks with your meal without worrying that the pudding will be wrecked.
The perfect Christmas tipple
No festive bash would be complete without a tempting tipple. Made for sharing, punch is the ultimate party cocktail. But mastering the right mix of ingredients is no easy feat. Tristan Stephenson, of London bar Purl, reveals his special Christmas recipe...
* 150ml Hendrick’s Gin
* one litre of hoppy ale
* 200ml cloudy apple juice
* 90g sugar
* 5g hops
* two cloves
* one dessert spoon honey
* two large splashes of Angostura Bitters
* one whole star anise
To garnish: five satsuma slices, cinnamon sticks.
1. Heat ingredients in a pan.
2. Simmer for 20 minutes then strain out the hops.
To serve: pour into teacups, decorate with the satsuma.
Where to shop
* The Ginger Pig, W12, W1, SE1, E9 (01751 460 091; thegingerpig.co.uk) for meat raised well on Yorkshire moors.
* Moen & Sons, SW4 (020 7622 1624; moen.co.uk) a great specialist butcher and game dealer.
* London Farmers’ Markets, from Brixton to Marylebone (lfm.org.uk).
* The Spice Shop, W11 (020 7221 4448; thespiceshop.co.uk).
* La Fromagerie, W1, N5 (020 7935 0341; lafromagerie.co.uk) for cheeses.
* Field and Flower, online at fieldandflower.co.uk for free-range everything from Somerset.
The Fabulous Baker Brothers Do Christmas is on More4, Monday, December 17 at 9pm. The Fabulous Baker Brothers Cookbook is published by Headline and costs £20.
The Fabulous Baker Brothers are pictured in The Conran Shop Chelsea. Conran's Neon trees are priced at £175 a stick (conranshop.com)