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Vanessa’s Top 10 Christmas Ingredients

Something I like about Christmas coming is opening up those old recipes with pages stuck together from the bakes with the kids over years gone by. They pretend to be less keen on that “childish” stuff these days but it doesn’t take much of a scent of ginger and cinnamon pervading the kitchen or a suggestion of marzipan about the place to get them into the kitchen to “help”.

Despite BakeryBits not quite having been around for 10 years yet, I am finding that some of our collections of recipes and ingredients have become regulars at home. For me, this includes the almond essence which I use in marzipan and the Norwegian Kranse Kake which I make every Christmas, just to make the almond flavour more intense.

Vanessa is the chef around here though so I asked her what kind of ingredients would she look to stock in her larder to make the very most of these festive treasured recipes. You could spend a day being taught by Vanessa, or give it as a gift, see below.

There are a few tips when you are baking at Christmas that will stand you in good stead. The first is to make sure you have all of the ingredients ready in your cupboard so you don’t get caught short. I think freshening up your store cupboard before the festive period begins is essential. Take the lids off ingredients, smell them, check the use by dates and make sure that nothing has spoiled or has past their best. If so, replace them with fresh. Keeping those ingredients for another year is wasteful, so as you buy, keep in mind all the different uses that one ingredient can be put to. That is, have a play around with flavours and make sure that you use every opportunity to finish up your festive ingredients by January. Think outside of just baking; consider ice-creams, cake frostings, baked pumpkins, hot drinks, mulled wine and homemade Christmas gifts (I am thinking cinnamon toffee and vanilla fudge here). Last, but not least, a favourite ordinary everyday loaf can sing with festive flavour with the addition of a handful of dried fruits and a teaspoon of spice or essence.

Steenbergs Organic Fairtrade cinnamon, 40g | £2.27

This Sri Lankan Fairtrade cinnamon is one of my favourites to use. It has a deep, sweet, woody rich spice and one of the things I really like about it is that it’s finely ground so that it disperses easily in my baking. It’s really important to buy fresh spices when it comes to Christmas cooking – you’re just not going to get those wonderful warm tones by using last year’s spices. So take a deep breath and clear out your spice cupboards and buy fresh. It will make all the difference to all of your baked goods - especially my cinnamon buns

Candied Rainbow Mix, 130g | £3.00

Think Southern Italy, think jewel-like colours, think moist sweet citrusy chewy delectable candied orange and blushed turnips – oh turnips have never been so romantic! When you open a pot of this candied rainbow mix, it’s like opening a jar of Italian sunshine. If I am perfectly truthful, I spent years picking bits of peel out of so many Christmas baked goods and I never really liked candied peel until Patrick sent me this one. The turnaround was instant and I became so addicted to it that I couldn’t stop using it. It goes into everything! Tumbling a jar into my sourdough bread and suddenly I have a Christmas sourdough or even adding it to my favourite chocolate brownies - the orange works a treat with anything chocolate! Stirring a great dollop of them into a treacle sponge pudding will incite oohs and aahs from your guests. And of course my absolute favourite has to be using them in my famously delicious panettone recipe. For this Christmas, I have added them into my panettone biscotti – for extra moist, chewy, deliciousness.

Mulino Marino Organic Tipo 00 Flour | From £2.75

“Tipo 00” is the Italian equivalent to the French T55, it adds fantastic texture – to cakes, bread and biscuits because it is so finely milled. It is so versatile, which is certainly what you need when you’re baking at Christmas. It goes well with any thing you bake with spices, essences and festive flavours. It is an interesting point to consider from an environmental point of view it is an organic flour and it’s more efficient to use a flour that has been milled close to where it grows than it is to import the wholegrain and mill it here... I also use this flour in my biscotti recipe. Final romantic point is that the number 154 on the bag is the number of years since Italian independence and I have been using this flour for long enough now to see the bags change over the years.

Mulino Marino Organic Chestnut Flour, 500g | £10.45

For some reason Christmas brings out the Italian in me and this chestnut flour is one of my absolute favourite things to use. I can’t pretend that it is an inexpensive option, but a 500g bag goes an extraordinarily long way and you can use it is so many different ways. By replacing just 10% of the flour in most recipes with chestnut flour a rich, deep, nutty, sweet base flavour is added. It’s gluten free, so be wary of adding more than 10% as that will start to affect the structure of your bread or cakes. You can try using it in Christmas cake, pastry, biscotti or even Christmas pudding. In addition to being delicious, chestnut flour is also high in manganese, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and copper too, so you could argue that it is both delicious and healthy.

Arancio Extra Calabria – Intense sweet Orange | From £7.00

For anyone who knows me I am slightly obsessed with orange when it comes to baking. Perhaps it’s my roots from Sorrento where the oranges grow in abundance on trees in the same way that apples grow here in the UK - they are everywhere. Arancio Extra Calabria sings with the strength and sweetness of these oranges – believe me when I say that it is so good that you could quite feel the need to burst into song like Pavarotti and sing Nessun Dorma in your kitchen when you open a bottle of it.

A tablespoon of this essence can be added to virtually anything you cook, bake or make in the kitchen. So try adding some to chocolate brownies, homemade mincemeat panettone, shortbread, pumpkin soup and even half a teaspoon mixed in with cocoa powder and sugar makes a really heavenly hot chocolate (be sure to use full fat milk as the oil dissipates in fat from milk). I would probably go as far as to say that this is the one essence that I COULD NOT live without.

Pearl Sugar nibs, 500g | £3.40

Baking is not just a job that needs doing. It is a comfort, a joy and a ritual and part of that is the bowls and equipment that you choose to help you do it. Sometimes picking a bowl that can be dual purpose – working as a mixing bowl and a fruit bowl; something as beautiful as a Mason Cash bowl becomes familiar, a bit like a reliable friend that you know is perfect for certain tasks in the kitchen. Often these bowls are handed down over generations, as they are so robust and familiar to family life.

Aroma Panettone, 100ml | £6.99

Take essential citrus oils; bergamots, orange, lemon, tangerine and vanilla blend them perfectly and pop them in a bottle and you’ll get one of the most delicious combinations that you could imagine. It’s not just to use in panettone, it will lift and change virtually anything that you choose to add it to; biscotti, muffins, cakes, pancakes or even outside of baking why not try panettone ice-cream, by simply making a vanilla ice-cream and stir in crumbled panettone and candied fruits.

Saf-Gold Instant Osmotolerant Yeast | £5.00

I could not imagine not having osmotolerant yeast to hand. This very special yeast is expressly for the purpose of lifting enriched doughs. I often find that using ordinary yeast to try and make Danish pastries, panettone and brioches gives a less than satisfactory result - unless I use lots of it which makes them too yeasty, dominating the other flavours and tends to make the cake dry quicker. This yeast is not just for enriched doughs as it works well in all bakes and if I had to have one yeast which could do everything I would have this.

Sourdough Starter | £14.00

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without sourdough in our house. So a good robust starter that sits in the fridge is worth its weight in gold. There is one of my most successful sourdough recipes, where people all over world email and tell me how reliable it is, is my overnight sourdough. It’s perfect for Christmas morning and you could really jazz it up by adding one of the Mulino Marino flours and my favourite to use in sourdough is the Buratto. And hey presto, you can have a no effort sourdough bread on the kitchen table on Christmas morning.

Ndali Vanilla Powder | £5.79

Vanilla is often one of the forgotten about spices at Christmas. I often combine vanilla with cinnamon, nutmeg, all spice and cloves. Vanilla has this extraordinary ability to pair with any of those spices and provide a lighter, sweeter, top note. A classic example of combining these spices would be using vanilla and cinnamon in cinnamon buns or adding a teaspoon of nutmeg and a teaspoon of vanilla powder into some buttermilk muffins. I have a particular affinity to this Ndali vanilla powder, simply because I met the farmers who grow it and harvest it and know the workers and their families who process the vanilla. What better time of year to buy Fairtrade and support hard-working farming families than at Christmas?

NEW PRODUCT: New Opinel Bread Knife

This would make a real treat for someone for Christmas. From Opinel, a French company that has been making high quality knives for over 120 years, this is a beautifully made bread knife with a stainless steel blade and beech handle. Designed to be nice to use, this is the bread knife to have! £29.95.

Do you have a sourdough question for Vanessa? Send it to us and the best ones will appear in our next postbag edition and receive a dough whisk.

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