There seem to be two Christmas breakfasts in this house. One around 7.30am (espresso, toast, jam) and then a more festive bells 'n' whistles occasion around 10am.
The second Christmas breakfast can be anything from smoked salmon and curd cheese to a compote of dried apricots and cranberries. There might be English muffins with butter or American ones with oats, orange zest and cranberries; homemade crispbreads freckled with caraway or pumpkin seeds; haddock kedgeree, and once, just once, there were blini hot from their tiny frying pan. (The dough took three hours; never again.)
This year there will be pancakes. Small ones, roughly the size of a biscuit and as thin and holey as lace. They will hold pieces of smoked eel and a smear of hot vivid-green wasabi. The batter is one I have used for years – it contains both salt and a pinch of sugar to turn the finished pancakes a deep honey bronze.
There will be pots of coffee, of course (forget the dawn chorus – I want the crackle of beans in a grinder first thing in the morning) and goat's or sheep's yogurt white as snow. I will forgo my morning porridge for warm toasted granola, which we will bring to the table in a large wooden bowl. That will give everyone oats, butter and sweetness from scarlet cranberries, golden sultanas and toasted hazelnuts. Instead of milk there will be yogurt and a spoonful of hot, sticky mincemeat to stir into it for the adventurous.
Glasses of scarlet fruit smoothie are something I have at any time of the year, but this time there are cranberries in there, too. They bring an unapologetic hit of Yuletide cheer. I deliberately choose frozen ones, and indeed other berries, too, in order to give the smoothie a melted ice cream quality. Use fresh if you prefer, but maybe add an ice cube or two to the blender for a true frosty-morning feel.
Christmas is the only time I make a fuss over breakfast. You are unlikely to catch me making a tray of muffins first thing in the morning on any other day. But this is a time of feasting, when everyone expects, and I feel should get, something they wouldn't normally have at any other time. It's a "push the boat out" breakfast. It is, after all, Christmas.
WARM CRANBERRY AND APRICOT GRANOLA
The fruit in this recipe is only a guide. Add whatever dried fruits you like, including raisins, dried currants, blueberries or chopped apple. I use coarse rolled oats for my granola, but the smaller porridge oats are suitable if you prefer. Rolled barley or spelt flakes are a good idea, too. If hemp seeds aren't your thing, then flax seeds work very well. Serves 4-6.
rolled oats 150g
hazelnuts 2 tbsp
apricots 100g, soft and dried
dried cherries 2 tbsp
dried cranberries 2 tbsp
golden sultanas 2 tbsp
For the topping:
yogurt 8 tbsp
mincemeat 8 tbsp
Melt the butter in a high-sided frying pan, scatter in the oats and let them toast lightly. Lightly chop the hazelnuts. Once the oats smell warm and nutty and are starting to colour add the hemp seeds and hazelnuts, tossing the ingredients occasionally to ensure they don't burn.
Slice the apricots. Add the dried cherries, dried cranberries, golden sultanas and apricots to the oats and mix gently. Remove from the heat and serve with the yogurt and warm mincemeat.
To warm the mincemeat, tip from the jar into a small saucepan, then stir over a gentle heat until it starts to bubble.
PANCAKES WITH SMOKED EEL AND WASABI
For the pancakes:
plain flour 100g
egg 1, large plus an extra yolk
sugar and salt a pinch each
butter 30g, plus a little extra
For the topping:
crème fraîche 1 tbsp
wasabi paste to taste
smoked eel 200g
salmon roe a little to serve (optional)
Make the pancake batter. Put the flour into a mixing bowl then add the egg, egg yolk and milk, and beat gently until the mixture is smooth. (I don't find it necessary to sieve the flour, but you can if you wish.) Stir in the sugar and a pinch of salt, then set the batter aside for half an hour.
Put the crème fraîche in a small bowl and stir in the wasabi paste. I use more or less equal wasabi paste to crème fraîche, but add a little at a time, tasting as you go.
Once the batter has rested, beat it once again, lightly. Melt the butter and stir it into the batter. Warm a little extra butter in a pan and set it aside near the stove, then pour a little of it into a small nonstick frying pan. Tip out any excess – you need only a thin film of butter – then pour in a small ladleful of batter. Turn the pan from side to side to let the batter form a small biscuit-sized pancake and leave it to colour over a moderately low heat for a minute or two, then slide a palette knife underneath and flip it over. Let the other side colour - it will be a little mottled – then slide out on to a plate. Continue like this until you have at least 12 little pancakes, either reserving the remaining batter or using it to make a few extras to eat later.
Place the warm pancakes on the table together with the wasabi, eel and, if you are using it, the salmon roe.
frozen cranberries, blueberries and raspberries 1 large glassful
apple juice 1 large glassful
yogurt 3 tbsp
a pinch of cinnamon
Put all the ingredients into a blender and blitz until fairly smooth. Pour into glasses and drink.