December 22, 2018
Christmas Cooking Part 3: Skye McAlpine
We’ve heard about festive traditions in Germany and Cyprus and for the last in our three part Christmas cooking series I’m thrilled to welcome back the wonderful Skye McAlpine to the journal to find out all about how she’ll be celebrating Christmas in Venice.
We last chatted in March this year when I interviewed her as her first cookbook ‘A Table in Venice’ was about to be published. Since then she’s spent much of her time on a book tour extravaganza which has taken her to everywhere from Daylesford Organic, Petersham Nurseries and Anthropologie in the UK to as far as New York, Toronto and Japan. It has been a hugely successful debut and has just been selected by The Week as one of the nine best food books of 2018.
Before she settles down for a well earned rest I managed to catch up with her. She told me all about honouring Venetian traditions alongside her love for English Christmas cooking and uniting the two with an abundance of panattone, a recipe for which she kindly shares with us. The interview paints a glowing picture of all the warmth, flavour and familial joy of Christmas festivities. Like Skye, I can’t wait to celebrate this year.
Talk us through Christmas day in your house. When and what is everyone eating?
I love Christmas. I look forward to it all year round – and we do almost exactly the same thing every year. We wake up at dawn (or whenever our son Aeneas, 6, wakes us up) and gather in the living room by the fire place to do stockings – usually with a pot of ginger and honey tea and a panettone. That keeps us going for quite a while. When we’ve finished our stockings, we get dressed, bundle up and head out for a big walk. Venice is blissfully quiet at Christmas – and looks so pretty with all the decorations. We head to Café Florian for breakfast (one of the prettiest cafés in town, with fabulous rococo interiors) and have hot chocolate and warm apricot jam brioche. Then we have Christmas lunch at home late afternoon – turkey, stuffing, roast potatoes, red cabbage, followed by many varieties of panettone with homemade brandy butter. After lunch we usually all watch a movie together and go to bed early.
Are there any Christmas traditions that you like to celebrate that are peculiar to Venice or Italy?
We always celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve – which is the Italian way. And then we celebrate it on the day again, in the English tradition. We go to Italian friends on Christmas Eve and have a wonderfully extravagant feast: seafood, tagliolini with truffles, sea bass and more panettone!
What are your favourite three interiors items that make your table or kitchen beautiful?
Lots of candles – I love candles, they bring a wonderful sense of occasion to even the simplest of kitchen tables. I have a beautiful set of pink Murano glasses by Giberto, which my son Aeneas gave me for Christmas last year – I absolutely love them and I love how they shimmer in the candle light. And good linen napkins – my favourites are the Once Milano ones: they’re lovely linen, feel so nice and luxurious in your hands, and they also dye them in really beautiful, subtle colours. I have them in white and in soft pink with a chocolate brown monogram.
Do you have any tips for getting ahead at Christmas?
Oh my goodness, I wish I did! Every year, I swear I’m going to be more organised and every year Christmas is as chaotic as ever. To be honest the chaos and the mad rush has come to be a part of Christmas for me – and I kind of love the bustle of it. The most important thing, I think, is to remember that it’s not about perfection: it’s about having fun. If I don’t manage to get everything done quite exactly as I would like, it really doesn’t matter – as long as we’re all having a good time.
Why have you chosen this recipe for Minford readers?
For me Christmas is all about panettone! I would happily eat it all year round. This is a wonderful recipe to dress up any old shop bought panettone, perhaps if it’s slightly stale or if quite simply you want to make it an extravagant centrepiece at your dining table. Once you’ve layered it with the mascarpone and almond buttercream you can decorate with whatever takes your fancy – from sugared redcurrant, to fresh herbs, glacé fruits, silver baubles or wintery florals. I can’t tell you how unbelievably good this is.
Panettone, Mascarpone & Almond Cake
250g salted butter, softened 500g icing sugar
320g mascarpone, at room temperature
100g ground almonds
1 panettone (about 1kg)
3 glacé cherries, to decorate a small handful of bay leaves,
Beat the butter with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Sift in half the icing sugar and beat until well combined. Add the remaining icing sugar and beat until smooth. Beat in the mascarpone until just combined, taking care not to overbeat or the mixture will become grainy and lumpy. Stir in the ground almonds.
Using a bread knife, slice off the ‘muffin top’ from the panettone to create a level surface; discard the trimmings (if I don’t gobble them up there and then, I cut them into small fingers to serve for breakfast or afternoon tea). Peel away the wrapping around the sides of the panettone, then cut horizontally through the middle with the bread knife to create 2 or 3 tiers of cake. How many will depend on the height of your panettone; some are a little taller and comfortably allow for 3 layers, while others are more squat and allow for 2.
Place the bottom layer of panettone on a cake stand or serving dish and spread a generous dollop of the mascarpone and almond cream on top. Top with the second layer of panettone (and repeat with a third layer, if you have one). Spread the last of the cream over the top and sides, then decorate with the glacé cherries and bay leaves.
A Table in Venice: Recipes from my Home by Skye McAlpine (Bloomsbury, £26) is out now. Photography © Skye McAlpine