Cherry Menlove - celebrating Christmas in style
PUBLISHED: 16:32 16 December 2013 | UPDATED: 16:37 16 December 2013
Crafting queen and homemaker Cherry Menlove knows how to celebrate Christmas in style. Here, she shares her festive secrets – and two mouthwatering recipes
Cherry’s pud pot gifts - makes 4
450g Christmas pudding.
Brandy butter: 170g unsalted butter; 4 tbsp brandy; 1 tsp almond extract; 170g icing sugar, sifted.
Decoration: 24 hazelnuts; 12 squares dark chocolate.
4 x 450ml mason jars; piping bag with a large nozzle attachment.
Cook the Christmas pudding according to the instructions. Divide evenly between the 4 x 450ml clean mason jars
To make the brandy butter, in the bowl of a free-standing mixer, use a paddle attachment to blend the butter, brandy and almond extract. Add the icing sugar to the mixture and whip until smooth and pale. Spoon the brandy butter into the piping bag with a large nozzle attachment; pipe the brandy butter onto the top of each pudding, swirling round and working inwards and upwards so that it finishes in a peak. Make sure the butter is not higher than the jar rim.
In a frying pan, over a medium heat, dry fry the hazelnuts for about 3-4 minutes, shaking them to make sure they do not burn. Allow them to cool before wrapping them in a tea towel to rub off the skins. Roughly chop the nuts and chocolate squares. Sprinkle generously onto the brandy butter. Serving suggestion: Screw the lid on and attach a spoon with ribbon.
Super-fast mince pies - makes: 18-24
Mince pies:plain flour for dusting; 2x 500g block sweetened shortcrust pastry; 820g jar mincemeat
Buttercream: 150g unsalted butter, softened; 1 tsp vanilla extract; 300g icing sugar, sifted
12-hole cupcake tin; 7cm-round cookie cutter; 5cm-star cookie cutter; piping bag with large nozzle attachment
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C/Gas mark 6. Grease the 12-hole cupcake tin and the baking tray. Sprinkle a little flour onto a surface
and roll out the pastry to a thickness of 1cm.
Use the round cookie cutter to cut out the pastry into 18-24 rounds. Press
into cupcake tin moulds. Place a teaspoon of mincemeat into each pastry case.
Roll out the leftover pastry and cut out the lids with the star-shaped cutter. Lay them out on a baking tray. Place the pastry cases and stars in the pre-heated oven and bake for 15 minutes (or until a light golden brown). Remove from oven; leave to cool for 15 minutes as the mincemeat will be hot.
To make the buttercream, in the bowl of a freestanding mixer, use the paddle attachment to cream together
the butter, vanilla extract and icing sugar until white and fluffy. Fill the piping bag (with a large nozzle attachment) and pipe a generous swirl of the buttercream onto each cooled pie. To finish, top with a pastry star and dust with icing sugar.
Cherry Menlove admits she goes a little crazy at Christmas. In fact, she loves the season so much she starts planning in the summer when her practised eye roves the sale aisles looking for bargain stocking fillers.
“For me, the essence of Christmas is cosiness,” she says, her eyes sparkling. “Just being together. I love the music and food, but most of all I love the change of atmosphere – that feeling of being snug and safe.
“I was raised in a home in which Christmas was special. It was an absolutely sacred time, full of peace and happiness, and I have my parents to thank for that. Luckily, I married a man who loves Christmas as much as I do, and now that we have three-and-a-half-year-old twins, Ned and Anais, I’m trying to brainwash them into our way of thinking.”
If you follow her hugely successful blog, then you’ll know that Cherry, dubbed “a quirky and funky mash-up of Mrs Beeton, Martha Stewart and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall”, has been adding sparkle to our Christmases for some years now.
Her website, punctuated with beautiful snapshots of life chez Menlove at her West Sussex home, boasts 2.4m hits a year and she has 5,500 fans on Facebook. The classes at her home-based baking school, Picket Fence Baking, are a regular sell-out and her video tutorials reach a global audience.
Earlier this year she brought out a beautifully-illustrated book, The Handmade Home, a masterclass on how to make one’s house a home. Packed with recipes, crafts and gardening tips, she offered step-by-step instructions on everything from making a wigwam to hosting a children’s party.
But the real showstopper was the final chapter – a humdinger of a Christmas special, with advice on how to make an enchanting gingerbread village, chocolate and ice cupcakes, peppermint creams, Christmas tree biscuits and a festive wreath festooned with eucalyptus, berries and dried fruits. Her delicious recipes for super-fast mince pies and pud-pot gifts (miniature Christmas puddings topped with brandy butter, hazelnuts and dark chocolate in be-ribboned mason jars) are reproduced here.
If you’re finding the prospect of reproducing all these festive goodies just a little daunting, Cherry has some soothing words of advice. “Everything in the book was made to a really high standard because I wanted to show it off at its best. But I’m having some girlfriends round with their children on the second Saturday in December, and their gingerbread houses will be lop-sided but brilliant. And that’s the point. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You’ll know what’s in the food when you make it. And if you’re doing it with your kids and friends you’ll always have those golden memories.”
Cherry and her husband, Robert, moved to Sussex in 2009 after watching a particularly inspiring episode of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage series while holed up in their Bermondsey flat.
“We were determined to get out of the City and experience more of the countryside,” she says. “We lived in Surrey for a while, then we happened to drive towards Petworth, and there’s a spot just before Petworth Park where the sky opens up and there are these huge hills. We just fell in love with Sussex. The thing we especially love is that sense of openness. It’s something we’ve never taken for granted.”
After initially settling in Wisborough Green and Littleworth, they spotted a spacious Thirties’ house which had been a former children’s home at the foot of the Downs near Bury, south of Pulborough. “Robert sent me the web link and said: ‘It’s really ugly, but what do you think?’ I thought it was magnificent and didn’t see the ugliness. It was run-down, but bursting with period features. I just thought, ‘Let me at it!’”
Cherry lovingly documented the transformation on her blog, uploading ‘before and after’ pictures which captivated readers, inspiring them to copy her ideas. With the aid of her dad’s trusty DIY skills and a lick of Farrow & Ball paint, she transformed her home into a vintage paradise. Her budget home-decorating skills have gone down particularly well in the States, where, she admits, they love an authentic taste of Old England.
Cherry was cooking by the age of ten and painting brown furniture a lighter shade of pale long before Rachel Ashwell coined the term ‘Shabby Chic’. But initially she followed another passion, gaining a degree in acting before working under Trevor Nunn at the Young Vic.
“It was a dream come true, but when I headed for the theatre at 4pm I’d get this sinking feeling. I just wanted to finish whatever little craft project I was working on.” So in 2004 she threw in the towel and went into “a creative chrysalis”, temping in city offices while she decided what to do next.
It was in one of these offices that she met Robert, an accountant for a venture capitalist firm, and they began dating. With Robert’s support, Cherry began a fledgling business online selling her own range of Fifties-style T-shirt designs.
A friend suggested she wrote a blog. “I hadn’t really heard of them, but then I remembered I’d Googled a follow-up from a purchase I’d made, and this blog had come up, written by a woman in the States, who crafted and shared pics from her life and kitchen. I loved it. So I took my little camera to the local market and thought, ‘I can blog this. I can blog everything!’ It was so exciting. The whole world opened up.”
Since then her blog has taken many forms: shared snaps about a family bonfire outing; a terrace makeover; a sanding and painting project. But all that changed when she suffered two miscarriages before becoming pregnant with twins. Then, in 2011, Robert was diagnosed with leukaemia and spent five months in and out of hospital. Cherry shared her darkest fears with her internet followers because she found it cathartic, and it prompted a deluge of support.
Despite serious complications, Robert came through and with their troubles behind them they plan to make this an unforgettable family Christmas. “Christmas Eve is my favourite day of the year, so Robert tries to book the day off work,” says Cherry. “After some last-minute shopping and present wrapping, we always head to the pub for lunch. This year Mum is bringing a fillet of beef, so I’ll do a classic Beef Wellington for the evening, washed down with a Christmas cocktail.
“This is the first year the kids will be old enough to appreciate it all, so they’ll be having proper stockings, though we don’t go in for expensive presents. I prefer bits and pieces they can play with for ages and ages.”
So what are you waiting for? Follow the recipes reproduced here and have yourself a very Cherry Christmas!
The Handmade Home by Cherry Menlove is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson at £20 in hardback. To find out more, visit www.cherrymenlove.com