Tastes like Christmas: festive favourite recipes from renowned Irish chef Edward Hayden

From traditional plum pudding to chocolate biscuit cake imitations, Edward Hayden has the season covered with these tried and tested recipes of festive favourites.

I simply adore Christmas and, indeed, the lead-up to it. One of my favourite things about it is writing my Christmas cards. I spend hours and days on them, making sure to not just send a general greeting but to always include a note of significance to the recipient. However, my all-time favourite thing about the lead-up is the Christmas baking!

In our house we were reared on a diet of traditions, so the scent of cinnamon, mixed spice and nutmeg running through the house was a regular feature in the weeks before Christmas. The cake would be made early by my mother, Sally. It was ‘fed’ regularly and then mounted with a very substantial layer of almond paste, before the ‘snowed up’ effect of the royal icing was applied.

I remember fondly the water dripping down the walls of the kitchen as the puddings steamed. I remember the regular stream of jars of mincemeat that left the house for family and friends as Christmas gifts. Our house was, and still is, a house of giving and feeding – and thanks to that we as a family have very special memories.

Today, I am sharing some of my all-time favourite Christmas baking recipes with you. I hope that you will get the opportunity to try them out and that your family and friends will enjoy them. Without wanting to sound too professorial, my advice is to enjoy the baking and not make a chore of it – so make sure not to attempt it until you have lots of time to give it the attention that it requires.

Wishing you and your families a very happy Christmas filled with joy, peace, contentment and food!


The Edward Hayden Cookery School in Co Kilkenny is running ‘Christmas lunch with all the trimmings’ and ‘Canapés & party food’ courses in November and December. To book, see edwardentertains.com

Christmas Pudding

Christmas pudding is just one of those recipes that people just call upon from year to year. Perhaps this year you could try this new recipe.

Serves 6-8


Fruit: 4oz/110g sultanas

4oz/110g raisins

4oz/110g currants

4oz/110g chopped mixed peel

4oz/110g chopped cherries

Dry ingredients: 2oz/50g white breadcrumbs

4oz/110g dark brown sugar

3oz/75g plain flour

2oz/50g chopped almonds

½ tsp mixed spice

½ tsp grated nutmeg

½ tsp ground cinnamon

Wet ingredients: 2 eggs

4oz/110g melted butter

1 large cooking apple, stewed

4floz/110ml stout

1 measure whiskey, rum or brandy


1. The Christmas pudding is very simple to make. Mix all of the ingredients together and place in a well greased 2-pint pudding bowl.

2. Cover with a disc of parchment paper and then a tightly fitting lid.

3. Place the pudding bowl into a large saucepan half filled with water. Bring the water to the boil and then reduce to a very gentle simmer. Steam for six hours, making sure that the water does not boil off, topping up as you go.

4. After the cooking time has elapsed remove the pudding from the water and remove the lid and greaseproof paper and allow the pudding to cool down completely. When cold, re-cover as before with fresh paper and store till needed.

5. On Christmas day reheat the pudding (in portions) gently in the microwave or return the entire pudding to a pot of water for 1 hour to warm the pudding through to the centre. Serve with fresh egg custard or brandy butter.

Chef’s tip

* It is best to have the puddings steamed at least 2-3 weeks before Christmas so as to allow the fruit and the pudding to mature.

* If you have the time you could soak the fruit with the stout or Irish whiskey for one or two days before making the actual pudding.

* Suet can be used instead of melted butter.


Edward’s mince pies

Christmas would not be Christmas without some delicious mince pies. One batch of the sweet pastry will make approximately 12 mince pies. You should have enough mincemeat to see you through the festive season!

Mincemeat with Apple & Marmalade

(Makes approximately 3-4 jars)


2 medium-sized cooking apples

5oz/150g butter

8oz/225g brown sugar

Zest & juice 2 oranges

4oz/110g mixed peel

2 tbsp orange marmalade

5oz/150g currants

10oz/300g raisins

5oz/150g sultanas

2floz/50ml Irish whiskey


1. Chop the apples into small pieces and add to a medium-sized saucepan with the butter and the sugar and cook gently for 3-4 minutes.

2. Next add in all the other ingredients and continue to cook for approximately 10-15 minutes on a low heat (the liquid should have come to the boil at this stage). Transfer the mixture to sterilised jars (see chef’s tip) and leave to rest for a couple of weeks before using.


Sweet Pastry

(This is a double batch of sweet pastry – additional pastry can be refrigerated or frozen for later use)


10oz/300g plain flour

5oz/150g caster sugar

5oz/150g butter

1 large egg


1. Place the sifted flour in a large bowl with the caster sugar.

2. Rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

3. Beat the egg and add to the dry ingredients and bind it together. (Use a little water as well if the egg is not sufficient to bind it together).

4. Wrap in cling film and allow to rest.


Crumble Topping


4oz/110g plain flour

2oz/50g caster sugar

2oz/50g butter

1oz/25g desiccated coconut


Rub all the ingredients together. Add a little ground cinnamon if you wish.


1. Preheat the oven to 1800C/3500F/Gas mark 4. Grease and line your tin.

2. Cut out discs of pastry and use them to line a 12-cup bun tray/mini muffin tin.

3. Spoon some of the mincemeat into each of the pastry line cups and then top with the crumble topping.

4. Bake for 15-18 minutes and serve with some freshly whipped cream with the addition of Irish whiskey.

Chef’s tip

To sterilise the jar for the mincemeat, first ensure that it is thoroughly clean

Then fill the jar with boiling water.

Empty the water after 2 minutes and leave the jar to dry for 20 minutes in the oven at a very low temperature (120˚C)


Christmas Tree Biscuits with Orange & Cinnamon

These are a deliciously tasty option to serve with coffee to visitors over the festive season.

Makes 16-20


4oz/110g butter

Grated zest of ½ orange

4oz/110g granulated sugar

1 large free range egg

8oz/225g plain flour

Pinch cinnamon

For the butter icing: 6oz/175g icing sugar

Grated zest of ½ orange

3oz/75g softened butter

A little boiling water


1. Preheat the oven to 1900C/3750F/Gas mark 5.

2. Cream the butter, orange zest and the sugar together until very pale and fluffy.

3. Mix in the egg and incorporate the flour and cinnamon until the mixture all comes together just like a pastry.

4. Knead on a lightly floured work surface for a moment or two. Wrap the mixture tightly in cling film and refrigerate for at least 2 hours until quite cold and firm.

5. After refrigeration, roll out the pastry on a well floured work surface. Be careful because it could stick at this stage so keep an eye on this and continue to keep it moving on the surface.

6. Roll the pastry out to a 10mm thickness and using a Christmas tree biscuit cutter cut out the biscuits. (Use whatever shapes you like).

7. Transfer the biscuits to a greased baking tray and refrigerate again for one hour. This prevents them from spreading during the cooking process so it means they will keep their shape better.

8. After being in the fridge again bake in the hot oven for 10-12 minutes or until just golden brown. You need to keep an eye on them at this stage as ovens vary greatly.

9. Remove the biscuits from the oven and allow to cool on the tray.


Butter icing

1. Cream the icing sugar, orange zest and butter together in a large mixing bowl, using a little boiling water to soften if necessary.

2. Sandwich the biscuits together with the icing.

3. Dust with icing sugar.

Chef’s tip

Some of the biscuits I have iced with loose royal icing and sprinkled with sugar decorations. Some of them I threaded onto cake pop sticks whilst hot and some I pierced with a skewer to make a hole a hole and then threaded with string or ribbon as an edible Christmas tree decoration!


‘When Sally & Mary Met Brenda’ Christmas Cake

In our house the Christmas cake holds great tradition. My late father, Eddie, never went to bed Christmas night without cutting the cake, regardless of how many chocolates he would have eaten after dinner. He just loved Christmas cake! This recipe is a combination of my mother Sally’s recipe and a recipe I got from a good friend of mine from Kilkenny, Mary Woods – with a nod towards a very old recipe that lots of people may have at home from one of Ireland’s culinary greats, Brenda Costigan. I vaguely remember my mother putting a tin of strawberries into the fruit for added moisture and if it’s good enough for my mother and Brenda, then it’s good enough for me!

Makes one 9-10in cake

Cake ingredients

1 tin strawberries

1lb/450g currants

10oz/300g sultanas

5oz/150g raisins

4oz/110g cherries, chopped into pieces

4oz/110g mixed peel

Grated zest of one lemon

4oz/110g chopped hazelnuts/almonds

4 tbsp of brandy

10oz/300g butter, softened

10oz/300g dark brown sugar

5 large eggs

12oz/350g plain flour

4oz/110g ground almonds

1 ½ tsp of mixed spice

¾ tsp nutmeg

1 ½ tbsp of treacle


1. Preheat the oven to 130°C/250°F/Gas mark ½.

2. Next, prepare the cake tin. You need to line it on the inside of a 9in or a 10in round tin with a double layer of parchment and on the outside with a layer of brown paper, tied with string so as to allow slow entry of heat into the cake. It is vitally important to spend time lining your cake tin correctly.

3. Open the tin of strawberries, discarding half of the juice. Purée the remaining juice and the strawberries until smooth.

4. Next you need to put all of the dried fruit, the lemon zest and the chopped nuts into a large bowl and mix in the brandy and the strawberry purée. Cover and leave to infuse for 24-48 hours.

5. In a large mixing bowl cream the butter with the brown sugar until light and fluffy.

6. Beat the eggs into the mix.

7. Sift the flour, ground almonds and spices together. Add the flour, ground almonds and spice to the creamy butter mixture, mixing thoroughly.

8. Next mix in the treacle and combine well.

9. Finally, you need to mix in the dried fruit which has been soaking.

10. Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tins and smooth it all out across the top.

11. Bake the cake mixture for 3 ½ hours or until the mixture starts to come away from the side of the tin. The cake should have a little spring when pressed in the centre to indicate that it is cooked. Allow to cool completely in the tin. Pour additional brandy over the top of the cake if desired.

Almond icing


14oz/400g ground almonds

7oz/200g icing sugar

7oz/200g caster sugar

1 large egg

1 egg yolk

6-8 drops of lemon juice


1. Sift the icing sugar, caster sugar and almonds together.

2. Beat the egg and egg yolk together. Add with the lemon juice and use them to bind the mixture together.

3. Kneed the mix together (similar to pastry) and wrap it tightly in cling film and store in the fridge until required.

Royal icing


1lb/450g icing sugar

2 egg whites

½ tsp glycerine

6-8 drops lemon juice


1. Put the icing sugar into a large electric mixer. Beat together the egg whites, glycerine and lemon juice and add this to the icing sugar, beating for approximately 5-6 minutes until a smooth spreadable consistency has been achieved. If the mixture is too loose add a little additional icing sugar and likewise if the mixture is too tight add a little additional egg white or lemon juice. If not using the icing immediately, cover with a damp cloth to prevent it drying out.

Frosted Bay Leaves


Sprigs of bay leaves

1 egg white

Caster sugar


Wash and dry the bay leaves well. Using a pastry brush, brush each leaf with egg white and then sprinkle with the sugar and leave on a wire tray overnight to dry.


1. Turn the rich fruit cake upside down onto a cake board or serving platter.

2. Brush the entire surface of the cake with boiled apricot jam.

3. On a work surface well dusted with icing sugar, roll out a piece of almond paste to fit the top of your cake and then long strips to cover all around the sides of the cake.

4. Dust the surface of the cake with icing sugar and use both your hands and your rolling pin to smooth the surface of the cake.

5. Leave the cake to dry out overnight. After at least 24 hours spread the royal icing over the cake, ensuring that the cake is covered completely. Leave this to dry for a following 24 hours and then just before Christmas arrange the frosted leaves on top.

Chef’s tip

The cake can be made and iced in advance and then just decorate with the frosted leaves just day before Christmas.


Chocolate Biscuit Cake Puddings

This is a simply delicious and quirky alternative for those who don’t like the traditional Christmas pudding.

Serves 8-12


Pudding: 1 tin condensed milk

4oz/110g butter

8oz/225g good quality dark chocolate

1lb/450g selection of biscuits (digestive, Rich Tea, Twix, ginger nuts, Mars bars, Toffypops)

Decoration: White roll-out icing

Green roll-out icing cut into holly leaves and piped with red royal icing

A little royal icing (see Christmas cake recipe, above)


1. Gently heat the condensed milk, butter and chocolate together. Stir carefully as it has a tendency to burn.

2. Break up the biscuits and throw them in and mash them up very roughly in the chocolate mixture.

3. Pour the mixture into a large 2lb/900g pudding basin lined with a triple layer of cling film (so as to take the cake out!) and leave in the fridge for 5-6 hours.

4. To decorate, cover with some roll-out white icing, cut in a haphazard manner (as pictured), to reflect melting snow. Pipe some royal icing on the top and then decorate with some ‘holly leaves’ made from green fondant icing and red berries piped using some red coloured royal icing.

5. Cut with a sharp knife and serve.

Chef’s tip

If you don’t wish to make this into an actual pudding shape you could set the mixture in an 8in/20cm

loose-bottomed spring form tin or a 2lb/900g loaf tin.

Additional ingredients you could add in:

* Sultanas/raisins

* Cherries

* Marshmallows

* Chocolate Crunchies


* Edward’s Christmas Culinary Extravaganza will be in Lyrath Estate, Kilkenny on Sunday, December 16. See edwardentertains.com

Photography by Julia Dunin

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