How to prepare effortlessly for entertaining @ Christmas.

This is our final edition to our series with Julia Henderson, who has shared with us her tips of the trade from 28 years in the diplomatic service. 

Click Here to catch up - Part 1 How to create a sense of occasion with your Table Setting

Part 2 How best to Prepare and Welcome your Guests 

Part 3 - Recipe Ideas 

Part 4 - How to prepare and entertain over Christmas. 

Christmas and other festive occasions provide the ideal opportunity to be creative and go all out for a beautifully decorated table. It can be as blingy or sophisticated as you wish.  Just use your imagination and play with ideas – the possibilities are endless.

TIP 1:

Add some glitter and glamour to a white table cloth by covering it with gold or silver netting from a fabric store (eg Fiona’s Fabrics, 340 Oak Avenue, Ferndale, Randburg).

TIP 2: 

Use a panel of vibrant coloured fabric or netting as a runner down the centre of the table.

TIP 3: 

Spray pine cones gold and silver and arrange them around the table or place them individually in glass bowls. (Delta Park is a good source of pine cones; the spray paint is available from hardware stores such as Mica.) Combine sprays of painted grasses and twigs with fresh flowers.

TIP 4:    

Buy some baubles from Checkers or Pick ‘n’ Pay and tie them together in clusters or place them in large wine glasses or tall glass vases.

TIP 5: 

Place a wire baobab tree, bought on a street corner, on the table as your centrepiece. You could tie small ribbons in bows onto the branches and place a tea light in a small glass underneath it.

TIP 6: 

Roll napkins in gold ribbon (or ribbon to match the colour of your table cloth). And, finally, don’t forget candles and crackers.   


Desserts that can be made in advance are ideal for large festive occasions such as Christmas. The coffee amaretto ice-cream cake below takes a little time to prepare but can be made up to a month in advance and kept in the freezer. Cinnamon pears are easy to make and can be served warm or made a day or two in advance and served cold. They go well with cream, Greek yoghurt or ice-cream. They also make a nice breakfast dish when served with Greek yoghurt or/and pancakes.


Serves 10
When I was a very young child, my family lived in a flat above a bakery, pâtisserie and ice-cream shop in Paris. From the age of four I was sometimes despatched to buy the daily baguette by my mother who would watch my progress from the balcony above. Even then, my favourites were coffee flavoured ice-cream and gâteaux. The liking for amaretto came later!

For the sponge cake:

  • 4 large eggs
  • 110g (4oz) caster sugar
  • 110g (4oz) plain/cake flour
  • 2 tablespoons strong coffee (can be made using 1 tablespoon instant coffee and adding enough boiling water until just dissolved.) 
  • 30-55ml (1-2 fl.oz)  amaretto
  • Preheat the oven to gas mark 7, 220C, 425F.


  • Line a 42cm x 27cm (17in x 11in) baking tray with baking parchment/paper. 
  • Place the eggs and sugar into a bowl. 
  • Place the bowl over the top of (but not immersed in) a saucepan of simmering water.
  • Whisk the eggs and sugar with an electric beater until the mixture is thick and creamy. This takes about 10 minutes. You should be able to write your name in the mixture.  
  • Sieve the flour and fold into the egg and sugar mixture with a tablespoon, moving the spoon around the edge of the bowl in a circular movement and then bringing the spoon through the middle. Only mix until the flour is combined – do not overmix.
  • Add 2 tablespoons strong coffee and mix lightly into the egg mixture.
  • Put the mixture into the baking tray.
  • Cook in the oven for 7 minutes.
  • While the cake is cooking, place a piece of baking parchment/paper (approx 45cm x 30cm/18in x 12in) on to a work surface. 
  • After 7 minutes, turn the cake out on to the paper on the work surface.
  • Leave the cake to cool. Peel off the baking paper.
  • When cool, cut out a circle from the cake, cutting around the base of a 24cm (9½ in) circular cake tin.
  • Line the base of the cake tin with baking parchment/paper.
  • Place the circle of cake into the base of the cake tin. (If there are some gaps around the edges, fill them in with small pieces from the remaining cake.)
  • Sprinkle liberally with amaretto and put aside. 

For the ice-cream:

  • 6 eggs, separated 
  • 225g (8oz) caster sugar, sieved 
  • 900ml (32 fl oz/ 4 cups) whipping cream
  • 6 tablespoons strong coffee (made using 2 rounded tablespoons instant coffee and adding enough boiling water until just dissolved.) 
  • 75ml (3 fl oz) amaretto


  • Place the egg yolks into a mixing bowl.  With an electric mixer, whisk at high speed, adding the caster sugar one dessertspoonful at a time. It is important not to add all the caster sugar at once or too quickly.
  • When you can write your name in the mixture, beat in the coffee and the amaretto. 
  • In a separate bowl, whip the cream until it has just started to thicken and holds soft peaks. It should not be too thick. Fold the cream into the coffee mixture.
  • In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until they are stiff. 
  • Fold one-third of the egg white mixture into the coffee cream mixture. 
  • Rebeat the remaining egg whites. 
  • Fold the remainder of the egg white mixture into the coffee cream mixture. 
  • Pour into the cake tin over the cake in the base. 
  • Open freeze the ice-cream in the cake tin (uncovered) for 12-24 hours. 

Praline topping and decoration:

  • 110g (4oz) caster sugar
  • 110g (4oz) hazelnuts (or pecans or almonds), chopped
  • 100ml whipping cream, whipped
  • Coffee beans (preferably chocolate coffee beans)


  • Place the sugar and nuts into a large saucepan or frying pan over a medium heat and caramelise gently, stirring to coat the hazelnuts.
  • Once the sugar has melted and everything is browned, pour the mixture in a layer onto a sheet of baking paper/parchment. Leave to cool. Once cooled, place the caramelized sheet into a plastic bag and smash the praline into pieces with the end of a rolling pin.
  • Sprinkle the praline over the frozen ice-cream.
  • Pipe whipped cream around the edge and decorate with coffee beans. Return to the freezer. 
  • Open freeze for a further 12 hours and then wrap the ice-cream cake in its tin in plastic wrap/cling film and foil.
  • To serve: take the ice-cream cake out of the freezer and put it into the refrigerator for about 45 minutes-1 hour before serving.  When ready to serve, remove the cake from the cake tin, including sliding the cake tin base away if you wish, and place on a serving dish. Whipped cream can be piped around the base of the cake if desired.
  • Remaining mixture: If there is any ice-cream mixture remaining, places circles of cake into the base of ramekin dishes. Sprinkle with amaretto. Cover with the ice-cream mixture cake and freeze to make individual portions. Alternatively, freeze the mixture in a loaf tin.

CINNAMON PEARS                                

Serves 4

This recipe was given to me by a very close friend, Helen, who was born in Cyprus. It has been a firm favourite of the family for many years.

  • 4 pears, peeled and halved
  • 24 cloves
  • 1 litre (1 ¾ pints) water
  • 200g (7 oz) granulated sugar                       
  • Powdered cinnamon


  • Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 3/170C/325F.
  • Put the water and sugar into a saucepan and heat over a gentle heat until the sugar dissolves. Boil for 2 minutes and then simmer for a further 20 minutes until the mixture is syrupy.
  • Decorate each of the pear halves with 3 cloves.
  • Place the pears in the base of a rectangular or oblong Pyrex or ceramic baking dish.
  • Sprinkle generously with cinnamon.
  • Pour the syrup over the pears in the baking dish and place in the oven for 1½ hours. Baste the pears with the syrup from time to time.
  • Leave to cool. Can be served warm or cold with whipped cream, Greek yoghurt or vanilla ice-cream.

Are you going to give either of these recipes a try - let us know how you get on. 

What are your favourite Christmas Recipes or Traditions - share with us in the comments below