Yotam Ottolenghi usually leaves the Christmas meals to his husband. But dessert is where he shines, making this riff on the classic bûche de Noël.
LONDON — I grew up largely unaware of Christmas.
It wasn’t until my mid-20s, after leaving my home city of Jerusalem, that I heard carols or saw great, big roasted birds at the center of tables. It wasn’t until I lived with a man who grew up with those traditions that I tried any of those things myself. And it wasn’t until we had kids, who are growing up in London, that I realized there would always be a bit of a contradiction there. If tradition is largely about passing on what you have grown up with, how do you navigate such a traditional day as Christmas when you have no memory of it yourself?
As always, I turn to food — where tradition can both be adhered to and, at the same time, allowed to evolve. The main meal is one that my husband, Karl, closely guards. He’s normally as relaxed as I am about “the way things should be,” but he still likes to maintain the link between the Christmas dinners he grew up eating and what our sons now tuck in to.
So, there will unquestionably be a goose or a turkey (with the prized turkey leg meat saved for sandwiches once everyone has had their fill) and brown sugar-dusted and clove-studded gammon. And there will be potatoes roasted in drippings or goose fat, carrots mashed with nutmeg and peaks of butter (sticking to the proportions perfected by my Irish mother-in-law), and a big bowl of sauerkraut to offset all that fattiness (and to nod to my father-in-law’s German heritage). I might just be allowed a flourish with the old sprouts — say, a handful of basil leaves and julienned lemon shavings — but that’s about as far as it goes.
Where I am given complete free rein, though, is dessert. Before kids, I used to be all about the trifle. Nothing felt more like a celebration than an epic, layered concoction of boozy fruit, sponge cake and cream. These days, the booze-soaked sponge has given way to a rather more family-friendly roulade. It’s as celebratory and light and creamy and “ta-da”-ish, but without all the liqueur! I also love that it nods toward the classic Christmas chocolate log — or bûche de Noël — without actually being it. It feels right: traditional but not traditional.
For 364 days of the year, I’m unequivocally unconfused about who I am, what to do and what the protocols are. Now that I have kids who are growing up in a community where Santa does stop by, I am happy to duck down, forget all complexities and lose myself in a cloud of festive meringue.