"I don’t like Christmas cake. I used to eat the marzipan and the icing and leave the rest,” admits Sophie Faldo.The Great British Bake Off 2017 winner is looking further afield for Christmas baking inspiration.
Here, she shares her recipes for Italian pandoro, Bavarian stollen filled with marzipan (an ingredient she can’t resist at this time of year), and an ode to France in the form of a bûche de Noël.
“Pandoro is something my mother introduced me to when I was very young, on a visit to Tuscany, before you could get it in this country,” she explains. “You could find panettone, if you looked really hard, but no one had heard of pandoro. As a child I loved the vanilla, and how sugary it was.” The rich, creamy bûche de Noël reflects her season working in an Alpine chalet, and the stollen many winters in Germany.
It’s perhaps no surprise that the well-travelled Faldo, a stuntwoman, cyclist and former Army officer (she embarked on a tour of Helmand Province in Afghanistan from 2009-10) has an adventurous, precise – and not a little competitive – approach to baking, and in particular to her specialism: patisserie.
Faldo firmly says she doesn’t want to restrict herself to “just baking Victoria sponges”. She adds: “The homely stuff isn’t really very me. I prefer international influences.” She is planning a trip to Japan with her boyfriend, chef David Slattery, to experiment with ingredients such as yuzu, green tea and wasabi.
I try to focus as much, if not more, on the decorating as on the actual cake
Her hero is the patissier and chocolatier William Curley, who is renowned for fusing British ingredients with Japanese flavours. Her copy of his book Pâtisserie (“it’s my Bible – I learnt everything from him”) is the most well-thumbed on her bookshelf, which groans with a selection of tomes including Japanese Pâtisserie by James Campbell, and Edd Kimber’s Patisserie Made Simple.
Her own book proposal, she tells me excitedly, will be a step-by-step introduction to high-end patisserie. “I want to make it simple and instructional, so that anyone can make their first foray into it. A lot of people might be overwhelmed by the William Curley book, so I want to break it down.”
As for her immediate to-bake list, Faldo is perfecting a show-stopping, amaretto-soaked red Christmas cake adorned with a Christmas tree. “I try to focus as much, if not more, on the decorating as on the actual cake,” she says. Next, she wants to try a Jewish Passover cake, a honey and sour cream layer cake (“Stacey [Hart] from Bake Off’s honey cake is the best”), a pandan slice inspired by a trip to Bali, and a “really nutty” nusskuchen. She’s also planning an eye-catching kransekake, a Norwegian ring cake made with almonds, icing sugar and egg whites.
These are just the beginning of Faldo’s baking odyssey; stay tuned for further dispatches from around the world.
Sophie Faldo's Christmas recipes
True Italian pandoro is laminated (folded and rolled repeatedly to create thin layers) like puff pastry, and leavened like bread. Traditionally it is made using a sourdough starter, but I’ve simplified it using dried yeast and an easy dough.
For the sponge mixture
20g dried active yeast
1 medium egg yolk
15g caster sugar
60g strong white flour
For the dough
540g strong white flour, plus extra for dusting
70g caster sugar
½ tsp salt
4 medium eggs plus 4 medium yolks
30g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
2 tsp vanilla extract
For the lamination
150g butter, soft enough to spread
Icing sugar, to decorate
Mix together the yeast, egg yolk, sugar and flour with 30ml warm water. Stir to combine and leave, covered, for an hour.
For the dough, sift the flour into a bowl then add the sugar and salt on one side of the bowl. Make a well in the middle and add the eggs, yolks, butter and vanilla, along with the rested sponge mixture.
Gradually mix until combined then, using a dough hook in a stand mixer, mix for about five minutes, or until the dough is soft and elastic. To do this by hand, knead on a lightly floured surface for eight to 10 minutes. Place in a lightly greased bowl, cover and leave in a warm place to prove until doubled in size.
Tip the dough on to a lightly floured surface and roll it out into a rectangle approximately 5mm thick. Spread the softened butter all over the dough, leaving a border around the edge to ensure it doesn’t leak. Fold a third of the dough over then repeat with the other side to make a book fold, wrap in cling film and chill for 20 minutes.
Remove from the fridge and roll out lengthways into a rectangle again, repeat the book fold and chill again. Repeat for a third time and, once chilled, bring the corners of the dough together and roll into a ball.
Place into a greased 500g pandoro tin (a panettone tin or very deep cake tin will also work), cover with cling film and leave to prove. The dough will need to come back up to temperature before the yeast can get going again. This may take a few hours. When ready, the dough will nearly reach the top of the tin and will spring back when poked.
Meanwhile preheat the oven to 170C/Gas 3½.
Bake the pandoro for around 40 minutes. The dough will rise well above the mould. Keep checking with your skewer; like a cake it will come out clean when the pandoro is ready.
Remove from the oven and leave in the tin for 10 minutes. Turn out and leave on a wire rack to cool. Once cool, cut into horizontal slices and rotate each one so the points are offset. Dust liberally with icing sugar to serve.
Bûche de Noël
For the sponge
6 eggs, separated
Pinch of cream of tartar
240g caster sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
50g plain flour, sifted, plus extra for dusting
2 tbsp cocoa powder
Butter, for greasing
For the filling
480ml double cream
65g icing sugar
65g cocoa powder
1 tbsp Irish cream liqueur
For the ganache
200ml double cream
100g dark chocolate, chopped
Icing sugar, to decorate
Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas 3½.
Place the egg whites in a clean bowl with the cream of tartar. Whisk with an electric whisk, until soft peaks form. Gradually add half the sugar and continue to whisk until firm peaks are achieved.
In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks with a pinch of salt, the remaining sugar and vanilla extract until pale and fluffy. Add the flour and cocoa powder and mix until combined. Add a spoonful of the egg white mixture to loosen it up, then tip the mixture into the bowl with the egg whites. Fold gently until combined.
Place into a greased and floured Swiss roll tin. Mine is a silicone 37 x 27cm tin, which is perfect for this amount of mixture, but you may want to adjust if yours is smaller.
Bake for about 10 minutes. The sponge should be cooked through but springy. Make sure you remove from the oven before the edges are too browned or they will crack when rolled.
Remove the sponge from the tin and place on a damp tea towel. Roll up the sponge from a long edge in the tea towel and leave to cool. This will keep the sponge moist and make sure it doesn’t crack when you want to roll it again.
For the filling, whisk the cream, icing sugar, cocoa powder and liqueur in a bowl until firm. Chill until you are ready to use.
When the sponge is completely cool, unroll (if the skin of the sponge gets left behind on the towel, this is fine) and smooth the filling out on to the sponge, taking it right to the edges, so that it is about the same thickness as the sponge or just a little less. Place back into the fridge for about 10 minutes to firm up.
Roll up the sponge from a long edge, using the tea towel to help push it along, and chill again while you make the ganache.
Place the double cream in a saucepan and bring to the boil, then remove immediately and pour into a bowl over the chopped up chocolate. Leave to rest for two minutes. Once the chocolate has melted a bit, fold the chocolate and cream together until smooth and glossy. Chill until it starts to thicken. Once the ganache is firm enough, whip it up to make it pale and fluffy.
Cut a large slice off one end of your Swiss roll at an angle and place it alongside the main log to form a branch. Cover all over with the whipped ganache and run a palate knife up and down to give a bark-like texture to the surface. Do the same in a circular pattern at each end of the roll. Dust with a spot of icing sugar to finish.
What makes stollen special for me is the marzipan. I leave it in a big log so you get a chunky disc of it when you cut a slice.
75g glacé cherries
50ml dark rum
100ml warm milk (not hot, or you will kill the yeast)
15g dried active yeast
225g strong flour, sifted, plus extra for dusting
50g caster sugar
1 tsp mixed spice
2 egg yolks
50g butter, softened, plus more for greasing and a little, melted, to finish
50g candied peel
50g blanched almonds, roughly chopped
Icing sugar, to decorate
Place the raisins and cherries in a bowl with the rum. Leave for at least an hour; the longer the better.
Place the warm milk in a small bowl with the yeast and leave to sit for about 10 minutes.
Put the flour, sugar and mixed spice in a bowl with a pinch of salt and mix well. Make a well in the middle and add the yolks and yeast mixture. Mix well, add the butter and mix again.
Turn out and knead on a lightly floured surface for about five to eight minutes until the dough is soft and supple.
Place in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and leave in a warm area for about an hour.
Tip out on to a floured surface and roll out. Drain the fruit and spread them out on the dough, along with the candied peel and nuts. Roll up the dough and then knead until all of the fruits and nuts are spread through it well. Roll out into a long, oval shape.
Mould your marzipan into a sausage shape just a bit shorter than the dough and place in the middle. Fold the dough over the marzipan so that it doesn’t quite meet the edge of the lower layer and press gently all around to seal in the marzipan.
Place on a lightly floured and lined baking tray and cover with cling film or a proving bag. Leave in a warm place to prove for another hour.
Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas 3½
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from the oven, place on a cooling rack and coat with melted butter. Once cooled, dust liberally with icing sugar.