For the first time I can remember, last Christmas I was home in time for the big dinner with the family (obviously, I went to work first, of all the traditions at this time of year, that’s the one non-negotiable) – how could cooking for 13 feel harder than cooking for 220?

At the table, and sounding like a new version of the 12 Days of Christmas, we had one vegetarian, two vegans, three turkey haters, four sprout avoiders, five gravy hoggers, six pigs-in-blanket kidnappers, seven different side dishes, eight people somewhat tipsy…and then let’s skip to the inevitable end, 12 portions of Christmas pudding uneaten.

I wish I’d thought ahead and nabbed one of these towering triumphs from work.

There are several dishes you can make easily at home that never fail to impress: the first is a souffle (and I have a very easy and fool-proof recipe I can share with you) the second is anything involving choux pastry.

It is a widespread belief that choux pastry is difficult, but actually it’s a perfect example of kitchen alchemy and precisely the kind of magic you need to pull out of the hat at Christmas.

Great British Life: The outdoor igloos are returning to The Assembly House for Christmas. Photo: Steve AdamsThe outdoor igloos are returning to The Assembly House for Christmas. Photo: Steve Adams

We serve these towering choux Christmas trees in our three igloos outside The Assembly House to our dinner diners and the trickiest part about them is delivering them from kitchen to igloo in bad weather.

Although you might think profiteroles are French, the original recipe comes from an Italian chef called Panterelli who cooked for Catherine de Medici, who arrived at the French Royal court in 1530, ready to marry King Henry II.

In addition to her dowry, Catherine also brought chefs from Florence (surely the best wedding present of all time) who played their part in the French pastry revolution.

In the 18th century, Chef de Patisserie Avice perfected Panterelli’s dough and created the choux we see today, and it was renamed pâte à choux in honour of its resemblance to that other Christmas favourite, the sprout (chou in French).

It was the wonderful Marie -Antoine Carême, the pastry chef’s pastry chef (and whose grave I recently visited in Monmartre Cemetery) who had the inspired idea to fill the choux with cream.

The name ‘profiterole’ is also suitably festive: the original meaning was “small reward or treat offered as recompense”: perhaps a bribe to the grandchildren to persuade them to eat their vegetables.

In addition to the Christmas showstopper, I’ve also included a few of my get-out-of-gaol-fast hasty sweet and savoury entertaining recipes that you can pull out of the bag in minutes if you have unexpected or extra guests popping in. Whatever you eat and however you celebrate this year, all of us at The Assembly House wish you a very merry Christmas!

Richard Hughes is chef director at The Assembly House in Norwich,

Great British Life: Richard gets set for Christmas. Photo: contributed by the Assembly HouseRichard gets set for Christmas. Photo: contributed by the Assembly House

Snowy profiterole tower

Choux pastry

170g lightly salted butter, chopped into small cubes

200g plain flour

5 medium eggs, beaten

To fill:

600ml double cream

Chocolate sauce

75g soft light brown sugar

40g cocoa powder

75g golden syrup

150g chocolate of your choice (the darker the better!)


1. First, make the choux pastry. Put the butter in a saucepan with 450ml water. Sieve the flour into a large bowl and set aside. Bring the butter and water to a fast boil, simmer until the butter has melted, then tip in the flour and beat like mad with a wooden spoon until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan and is lump-free. Tip into the bowl and spread the thick paste up the sides a little to help it cool quickly, then leave for 10 mins.

2. Heat oven to 200C/180C fan/Gas 6 and cut two pieces of baking parchment to fit two baking sheets. Fit a piping bag with a large round piping nozzle, about 1.5cm wide.

3. When the flour paste has cooled but is not cold, start adding the egg, bit by bit, beating well between each addition until you have a smooth batter which will reluctantly drop off the end of your spoon (you can do this in a freestanding mixer if you have one). You may not need to use all the egg, so add it slowly. Transfer to your piping bag and use a little of the mixture to stick the parchment to your trays.

4. Pipe the choux onto the baking sheet and pipe 30 walnut-sized balls, spaced apart for rising. Bake for 35-40 mins, swapping the trays around for the final 10 minutes. The choux should be puffed, golden and sound hollow when tapped.

5. Once baked, leave to cool completely. (Can be made a day ahead and stored in an airtight container, reheat in the oven for 5-10 mins to crisp up before filling.)

6. Make the chocolate sauce by putting the sugar, cocoa and golden syrup in a pan with 200ml water. Whisk together over a medium heat then, once it begins to boil, bubble fiercely for a minute, remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate until it has melted. Pour into a bowl and leave to cool, then cover and chill.

7. Whip the cream (you can combine some chocolate spread or Bailey’s Irish Cream with it if you’d like to gild the lily) into soft peaks. Spoon the cream into a piping bag with a small piping nozzle.

8. When the profiteroles are cold, assemble your tower. Poke holes in the bottom of each bun with a small piping nozzle and pipe in the cream until they feel heavy and the cream tries to squirt back out of the hole.

9. You can stick your profiteroles together with a little icing, chocolate or – best of all – caramel. Carefully heat 150g of white caster sugar in a pan and – equally carefully! - use it as glue. Once assembled, take triumphantly to the table and pour over the sauce!

10. Receive applause.

Great British Life: Richard's chocolate mousse. Photo: contributed by the Assembly HouseRichard's chocolate mousse. Photo: contributed by the Assembly House

Rich (fast!) Chocolate Pots

Serves 8


300g dark or dark milk chocolate

150ml double cream

150ml whole milk

Cream to garnish plus topping of choice

1. Chop or grate the chocolate and place in a bowl.

2. Heat the cream with the milk to just below boiling and then pour it gently over the chocolate in the bowl and stir until the mixture is smooth.

3. Pour carefully into eight small ramekins and chill until needed.

4. Just before serving, add some whipped cream and a topping – we’ve used freeze-dried raspberries but you could use grated chocolate or even gold-leaf if you’re feeling flash!

Three more of our favourite 10-minute easy entertaining recipes

Great British Life: Richard's omelette Arnold Bennet. Photo: Chris TaylorRichard's omelette Arnold Bennet. Photo: Chris Taylor

Omelette Arnold Bennett

I’ve literally made hundreds of these omelettes: here’s a quick way! Microwave 100g of skinless boneless smoked haddock with 50ml cream. Take three eggs, separate two of them and whip the whites. Take the other egg, add the two yolks, salt and pepper and beat. Fold in the whites to the yolks. Make a soufflé omelette with the eggs. Top with smoked haddock, a splash of cream and a sprinkle of cheese. Flash under grill and finish with a pinch of paprika.

Baked Baron Bigod

Fen Farm’s famous cheese: it doesn’t get simpler than this!

Take a small Baron Bigod – stud with thinly sliced garlic, slices of chorizo and a drizzle of rapeseed oil. Bake in the oven for five minutes at 160c. Serve with bread.

Binham Blue Mushrooms

Take three large flat mushrooms per person. Drizzle with garlic butter. Sprinkle on chunks of Binham Blue cheese, place in a preheated oven at 160c. After five minutes, sprinkle on some chopped walnuts and place back in the oven, before taking them out. If you want to gild the lily, top with crispy streaky bacon and serve on thick toast