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Our annual Christmas charity shopping evening is upon us once again and this year I decided to get ahead with a serious baking session in the kitchen. 
Every year, we partner with Cambridge Magazine to support a local charity and our customers get the chance to accompany their Christmas shopping with canapes, fizz and a special discount on the night, whilst all ticket proceeds go to support the charity.  It's always a great event - some of our customers start to enquire about it in the summer! Whilst planning this year's event, we decided early on to stick with some old favourites to nibble on...

I love the ritual of Christmas and for me, Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a sausage roll.  Every year, Delia's Christmas book makes an appearance in our house in October as I ready myself for the season ahead.

This year, as I was catering for 50 guests I decided to cheat and buy the puff pastry. hardly a hanging offence I know, but mine and Neil's Christmas Eve tradition is to have sausage rolls for supper with our very own homemade butter puff pastry. Deeply indulgent, but it is Christmas after all!

The classic combination of sausage meat, sage and onion makes the most delicious sausage rolls imaginable. I've also been known to add some dried sage and onion stuffing mixture - perfect to lighten the filling and make the meat go further.

I almost forgot the egg wash but remembered in the nick of time...

The finished result: tasty sausage meat wrapped in golden, crispy puff pastry. Surely the perfect canape!

As it's the festive season, how could we not offer our guests mini mince pies to follow? Homemade ones always taste better, and this year's mincemeat featured fresh apples from the enormous tree in our new garden.

I love a citrus hit with mincemeat, and this pastry is really improved by the addition of the zest and juice of an orange.

It's also made deliciously short and crumbly by using icing sugar in the mixture.

As you can see, my pastry cutting skills need practice!

You can make the pastry even richer by adding ground almonds along with the orange. 

As I had some spare pastry I made some larger star-topped pies to squirrelled away in the freezer until Christmas Eve.

Deep and crisp and even: homemade mini mince pies with orange pastry. The smell in the kitchen is amazing, and they taste even better, so I urge you to give them a try!

I hope my time spent in the kitchen has given you some inspiration to get ahead with your own preparations for the festive season.  At this time of year, when we all need reminding to keep calm and brace ourselves for the marathon of eating and drinking before us, just remember that simple, tried and trusted recipes are often the best!  What are your festive favourites?

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