Photo: The Food Network/AP.
Slashfood: Talk to me about children and Christmas baking.
NL: Children love baking. It's not difficult getting them involved in things that are quick and easy. I've always done these edible Christmas tree decorations -- the children can make the dough, and it's a very forgiving dough. You can't explain to a 3-year-old, "Excuse me; can you handle that dough carefully," because they are rolling it out endlessly and pressing their fat little hands all over it. Also expect a mess.
Any recipe that had only one egg always caused major upset [in my family] because everything else you can tell children to take it in turns but when there's one egg you have to remember from last time who did the egg and that's difficult. Remember that they have upsets and they may shove each other out of the way and there's usually more flour going on the floor than in the bowl. When I used to bake and decorate, I used to give each of them their own little bowl of frosting and decorations so they're focused on their own creative work; otherwise they're copying each other and saying, "I want the silver balls."
Read the rest of our exclusive interview with Nigella Lawson after the jump. Plus, a recipe for an edible Christmas tree decoration.
Slashfood: Kids. They're annoying.
NL: Aren't they? They just don't know how to behave. You have to choose recipes that don't require more concentration than they can give at any particular age and you must lower your expectations. My problem was always in my head I had this lovely scene with these lovely children, wonderful mother, let's be all bonding ... obviously it's never quite like that. So you just have to think "I am baking with my children," not "I am trying to create the perfect childhood for them." You mustn't undermine yourself and you mustn't undermine children, because inevitably -- quite apart from being childish -- they're not going to do something that looks like it came out a bake shop.
I mean I can't do something that looks like it came out of a shop. I don't believe in that modern thing of falling over their every activity and telling them they are the best cookie maker ever to have lived, but nor do I think you should take away from them their sense of accomplishment. Like if you're making muffins, you know muffins must be over beaten, but of course they each want to do their own bit and you know those muffins are going to be pretty leaden, but it's not the end of the world.
Slashfood: How old are your kids, Cosima and Bruno, now?
NL: They're teenagers. They want to cook and bake without my help. If my daughter decides she wants to make brownies, I have to stop myself from saying, "That's too much sugar" or "Don't do that." She wants to do it her way and that's how they learn. Unfortunately they can cook by themselves but they can't wash up by themselves. The worst development.
Slashfood: You're Jewish but grew up celebrating Christmas. Do you do anything for Hanukkah?
NL: I don't. It's difficult because I wasn't brought up like that, but I have occasionally, because I think if you've got an excuse to eat deep-fried food why turn it down? It's an opportunity to be cherished. I've got quite an interesting book about Greek Jews and I used to do these wonderful things called loukomades.
Slashfood: What are you making this year for Christmas dinner?
NL: I always make the same thing I'm afraid. I make a turkey and every year I seem to add more sides. I like everything. I find ever since I took up brining, it's just made it immeasurably better and what I love is the various permutations of mouthfuls you can have. I like it all cold actually. There's nothing quite like a cold turkey, roast potato, cranberry sauce and bread sauce sandwich.
Slashfood: What about desserts?
NL: I do a Christmas fruit pudding using the most fantastic rich treacly sherry from Spain. Because a lot of people can't stand it, I also do another, which is like a steamed chocolate pudding with hot-chocolate sauce.
Slashfood: How many people do you have over?
NL: Last year I had 22. To be honest once you've got enough for 22 people you've probably got enough for 35. I'm pretty relaxed about it. I just need to know in time to hire chairs.
Slashfood: Wait, you don't have spare chairs in the garage?
NL: No, I don't, because when do you need that many chairs? Only about twice a year.
Slashfood: Do you worry about calorie counting during the holiday season?
NL: No, I don't. I feel January is the traditional time to start going on a diet and even if you don't, you can pretend to yourself that you will be. I try and avoid that kind of mindless overeating that makes you feel unwell. I don't do that constant grazing because once you start, there's no logical reason to stop.
Slashfood: How many cookbooks do you have?
NL: I know the answer to that now because I had a librarian come and put them in order. When she came, there was just over three and a half thousand, and I've bought a lot since.
Slashfood: Wow! Is there any cookbook in the world you don't have?
NL: Several, but I'm sure I'll buy them soon.
Edible Christmas Tree Decorations
Makes approx. 35-40
From 'NIGELLA CHRISTMAS' by Nigella Lawson. Copyright 2008, 2009. Published by Hyperion. Photographs by Lis Parsons. Available wherever books are sold. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Lis Parsons
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1-2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 stick (8 tablespoons) soft butter
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, beaten with 1/4 cup runny honey
FOR THE ICING AND TRIMMING:
2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 table spoons meringue powder
Edible gold or silver sprinkles
Florists' ribbon for hanging
Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves and pepper in a food processor and, with the motor on, add the butter and sugar, then, slowly, the beaten eggs and honey, through the feed tube -- though don't use all of this liquid if the pastry has come together before it's used up.
Form two fat discs and put one, covered in plastic wrap or in a resealable bag, in the refrigerator while you get started on the other.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Then dust a work surface with flour, roll out the disc, also floured, to about 1/4 inch, and cut out your Christmas decoration with cutters of your choice, which could include fir-tree shapes, angels, stars, snowflakes and so on.
Re-roll and cut out some more, setting aside the dough scraps from this first disc, well-covered, while you get on with rolling out the second. When you've got both sets of leftover clumps of dough, roll out and cut out again, and keep doing so till all the dough's used up.
Now take a small piping nozzle and use the pointy end to cut out a hole just below the top of each cookie (through which ribbon can later be threaded).
Arrange the pastry shapes on the lined cookie sheets and bake for about 20 minutes: it's hard to see when they're baked, but you can feel; if the underside is no longer doughy, they're ready. Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool.
Mix together the confectioners' sugar with the meringue powder and 3 tablespoons water, beating it until it's thick enough to be able to cover the cookies with a just-dripping blanket of white.
Carefully ice the cold decorations, using a teaspoon (the tip for dripping, the back for smoothing), and scatter sparkles or sprinkles as you like. When the icing is set, thread ribbon through the holes and hang on your tree.