Buff up your baby buffet
With the world eagerly awaiting the birth of the royal baby, it's time to refresh your buffet repertoire ahead of any baby-themed summer soirees. Keeley Bolger takes a masterclass in perfect Christening food
Party food can be a faff to make at the best of times, but for new parents the thought of attaching pineapple and cheese cubes to cocktail sticks for Christening guests is probably not a welcome one.
Calling in the caterers is one option. Then there's option number two, which is to unstiffen your upper lip and accept help with making the spread.
"You should absolutely accept help," says Cherry Menlove, author of craft and cookery book The Handmade Home. "You want to be relaxed about the Christening but you don't want to feel like it's all been taken out of your hands. If somebody says, 'Can I help?' then be really specific. Say, 'Yes please. Can you bring three cartons of orange juice and one bottle of lemonade?'"
Menlove, who lives with her husband Robert and three-year-old twins, is the brains behind the craft blog www.cherrymenlove.com which she started from her spare bedroom eight years ago. A lifelong fan of parties, she regularly hosts people in her home in the Sussex countryside.
And while it's tempting to go all out on swanky decorations and food to impress guests, Menlove thinks simplicity is the key for a stress-free Christening or family gathering.
"Open the doors and do what you can do," she says. "If you have to fetch food or get the drinks, that's fine, but you don't want to be icing cupcakes [during the party]. That's nuts. You want to be there holding your child and relaxing."
Menlove will be opening the doors to her home later this year when she and Robert baptise their children, Ned and Anais, at their local church.
The Christening comes after Menlove's family found themselves in the most testing of circumstances when Robert was diagnosed with leukaemia. Happily, he's been in remission for a year now and life is getting back to normal.
"I think Robert's illness was part of the reason why we waited so long to Christen the kids," she says.
"It was a couple of summers ago [that Robert was ill] and it took months for his chemotherapy to end. But now we feel really settled. It's such a lovely, lovely time and such a relief.
"I don't even think it's that we're even pushing the children into a certain state of religion, we just wanted to really dedicate them to a life of love and happiness and thought that was a really nice way of doing it."
The family will be celebrating the December baptism by gorging on comforting stews back at Menlove's home.
"I'm going to bake up big pots of chilli and hearty stews the night before and slowly re-heat them," she says.
"A combination of big dishes, snacks and [food] gifts that people can take away makes things a lot easier for hosts. And for me, as the person who'll probably be trying to organise most of it, I'll really be able to enjoy the Christening and know that people are being well fed."
With that in mind, here are three recipes from The Handmade Home that you can either make before the party or ask your guests to help you with.
The recipes someone else can make...
AFTERNOON EGG AND CRESS SANDWICHES
(Makes 8 finger sandwiches)
6 large hard-boiled eggs
2 x 20g packets cress, cut up
Unsalted butter, room temperature for spreading
Salt and ground black pepper
6 slices good-quality white bread
In a large saucepan, bring the water to simmering point. Place the eggs in the pan and leave to cook for 6-7 minutes (6 minutes leaves the centres slightly squidgy inside). Remove the eggs and place them in a bowl of cold water. Once cool, remove the shells and put the eggs in a large mixing bowl.
Add the mayonnaise, the cress and seasoning. Use a fork to mash together until the ingredients are completely blended. To make the sandwiches, spread a thin layer of butter onto one side of each slice of bread.
Place a heaped spoonful of the egg mixture onto 4 slices of bread, using a knife to spread the mixture out evenly.
To create a double-decker sandwich, take 1 slice of egg-covered bread and lay it on top of another. Lay one of the buttered slices of bread face down on top. Press down lightly with the palm of your hands to hold the ingredients in place.
Carefully cut the crusts off with a sharp knife before slicing the sandwich into 4 even-sized fingers. Repeat to create the second round of sandwiches and arrange on a cake stand or serving plate.
SMOKED SALMON, CREAM CHEESE AND DILL SANDWICHES
200g cream cheese
20g fresh dill, finely chopped
6 slices good-quality brown bread
Unsalted butter, room temperature
200g smoked salmon
Ground black pepper
In a medium-sized bowl, mix the dill, cream cheese and seasoning. To create the sandwiches, follow the same steps detailed in the egg and cress recipe, but replace the egg mix with a layer of cream cheese and a slice of smoked salmon.
The 'freeze-ahead' recipe
LOVELY FRUIT SLICES
200g demerara sugar
200g unsalted butter, softened
1tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp mixed spice
4 large eggs
5tbsp full fat milk
Zest and juice of 1 orange
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
700g mixed fruit (sultanas, currants, candied peel)
2lb loaf tin
Preheat the oven to 190°C/Gas 5. Grease the loaf tin and line with the parchment paper. Beat the sugar and butter together in the bowl of a free-standing mixer with a paddle attachment, or with a wooden spoon until light and fluffy. Sift in the flour, cinnamon, mixed spice and salt and mix well.
Then, mix in the eggs and blend until creamy. Slowly pour in the milk, blending as you do so. Stir in the citrus zest, juice and dried fruit, mixing well until fully combined.
Pour the cake batter into the tin and use a spatula to evenly distribute the mixture. Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes, or until golden brown on top and a knife inserted into the cake comes out clean.
Allow the cake to cool completely before removing it from the tin and cut into even slices.
The 'make the day before' recipe...
PEA AND MINT SOUP
(Serves 4, or more if poured into small espresso cups)
1 medium-sized waxy potato, cubed
75g unsalted butter
5 spring onions, chopped
600ml vegetable stock
500g fresh green peas
25g fresh mint, leaves only
600ml full fat milk
¼tsp sea salt
¼tsp ground black pepper
Creme fraiche (optional)
In a large pan, over a high heat, cook the cubed potato in water until softened. Drain and set to one side.
In a large frying pan, melt the butter over a low heat and cook the spring onions until softened.
Use a large pan to heat the vegetable stock, peas, mint and milk. Add in the cooked potato and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir the soup and bring to boiling point.
Turn the heat right down and allow the soup to simmer for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally, skimming off any froth with a spoon.
Remove from heat. Pour into the bowl of a free-standing mixer or use a hand-held blender to blend until smooth.
Ladle into serving bowls or cups and, for extra effect, drizzle a circle of creme fraiche onto each serving of soup.
The Handmade Home by Cherry Menlove is published in hardback by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, priced £20. Available now
The Handmade Home by Cherry Menlove is published in hardback by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.