Nigella Lawson’s fondness for Amsterdam’s food and culture during the Christmas season knows no bounds, and this year, she is set to share the Dutch festive joy with viewers in the UK through her BBC One and iPlayer special, “Nigella’s Amsterdam Christmas.”
Amsterdam captivates at any time, but Nigella aims to transport the city’s unique festive ambiance and enchantment to those snuggled up at home this winter. With deep family ties spanning generations, her numerous visits evoke cherished memories of canal reflections, people gathering against the cold with Claret Cup in hand, the fragrance of spice-sweet and fruited breads, and the satisfying crunch of icing-laced cookies.
In this special programme, Nigella will explore her favourite Amsterdam spots, adhering to her well-loved storytelling style. This year’s culinary delights include:
- Indonesian biryani, drawing inspiration from Amsterdam’s thriving Indonesian food scene.
- A no-bake advocaat and ginger cake.
- The Dutch classic, Speculaas biscuits.
- Dutch Mussels.
- A variety of Christmas surprises, including a specially crafted cocktail.
Throughout the show, Nigella will guide viewers to her preferred locations in the Dutch capital, such as a sweet shop with a focus on liquorice, a cheese shop boasting a fabulous selection, and a chip shop with queues extending around the block. Nigella will source special ingredients for her festive feasts in London, find moments of serenity amid the city lights, and conclude with a joyful atmosphere to bring the Christmas spirit home.
Filmed in both London and Amsterdam, this festive special promises the beloved charisma, distinctive storytelling, and enchanting elements associated with Nigella. With accessible and delicious recipes, the show offers a festive twist to this year’s Christmas celebrations. Brace yourself for a deeply personal journey through the Dutch capital this Christmas with “Nigella’s Amsterdam Christmas,” airing on BBC One and BBC iPlayer on Thursday, 21st December at 8 pm.
Q&A with Nigella
What do viewers at home have to look forward to in Nigella’s Amsterdam Christmas Special?
I’m so immersed in it while making the programme that it’s quite hard for me to see it from the outside, but I suppose overwhelmingly what we’re celebrating, and inviting viewers to celebrate with us, is that gorgeous, warming, twinkly sense of Christmassiness. I say “we” not ‘I’ not just because a television programme is the result of so much more than just the person in front of the camera, but also because the sense of joyful camaraderie on set really is what gives the programmes we make their essential character.
But of course there’s more to the Amsterdam Christmas Special than getting into the mood: it’s also about sharing ideas for stress-busting deliciousness over the season, and I’m very excited to unveil my new recipes. Plus, of course, the liquorice box is back! They take their liquorice very seriously in Amsterdam – as do I – and I’m hoping I’ve come up with a recipe that even those who are not hardcore liquorice-lovers will enjoy!
Tell us about your passion for Amsterdam – what brings you back so often?
Although I visited Amsterdam on holiday when I was young, it was first through work that I started going regularly, when my first book came out in the Netherlands, and then consequently my other books, and I’d go every other year towards Christmas and was just bowled over by how particularly beautiful Amsterdam is at this time of year. I can never get enough of walking through the lit-up canal-side streets lined with those exquisite, narrow 17th-century houses – and I celebrate these specifically in one particular recipe! For what I adore about Amsterdam is that it is such a vibrant, modern city but one infused with such a rich sense of history: you can feel the bustle of the past in the liveliness of the present.
Where are your favourite places to visit in Amsterdam?
Like Venice – and, indeed, Amsterdam has long been called the Venice of the North – this is a city for walking about in, making sudden discoveries and finding places you didn’t know you were looking for. And at this time of year, what draws me particularly is the Light Festival which illuminates the city and the soul! There is just something about the way the lights sparkle on water that sends ripples of Christmassiness through me.
Apart from the museums and galleries, which are maybe too obvious to mention, my visiting places tend, unsurprisingly, to be food-related! Whenever I go to Amsterdam, I have to pay a visit on my first night to Freddy’s Bar in the Hotel de l’Europe for a beautifully made cocktail and some of their wonderful Bitterballen, which are the Dutch bar snack. They are the most wonderful deep-fried round-shaped morsels and you find them everywhere but these, along with the mustard sauce they’re served with, are my absolute favourite. And I always try and find time for a dinner in Toscanini, which has been going for as long as I can remember and is something of an Amsterdam institution. Though it’s always wonderful to find out new places to eat, as well, and there’s always a great new eating experience around the corner each time I go back. I have to mention just one of these, and it’s the fabulous Fabel Friet, where they serve nothing but chips – but what chips! I go for the ones covered with finely grated fresh parmesan and a splodge of seriously spicy mayonnaise!
I also always have to go to Patisserie Kuyt for my favourite version of the Dutch apple tart (though it’s normally referred to as a pie) known by the name (rather joyful to utter) of Appelschnitt! And for stocking up on liquorice, I make a beeline for Het Oud-Hollandsch Snoepwinkeltje (The Old Dutch Sweet Shop) and I love to check out Amsterdam’s lovely and laidback cookbook shop, called just that (in Dutch), namely De Kookboekhandel.
And of course, you can’t go to Amsterdam at this time of year without going to a few of their Christmas markets: just magical!
You’re very much a fan of surprises, but are there any exciting Nigella twists to old favourites?
I’ve returned to an old favourite, the bar nuts I’ve been making for around 30 years now, but with a rather different new twist – and I do kick the show off with a rollicking cocktail I just cannot wait to share with everyone. Plus, I’ve borrowed from the glorious Dutch festive baking tradition for sweet treats to serve alongside the mince pies this year. And, bearing in mind how central the cheeseboard is to our Christmas eating pleasure, I’ve turned one very traditional Dutch Christmas cookie into cheese biscuits of utter delight!
There are some fantastic dishes in this special – why did you choose these recipes?
I feel so inspired by Amsterdam, and wanted to convey why, rather than simply recreate a traditional Dutch Christmas. So I chose recipes that spoke to me particularly and shaped them in a way that makes sense alongside our festive eating traditions.
I adore a bit of Christmas baking, so knew I wanted to do a version of the Dutch Banket – an easier-than-it-looks almond-centred pastry – and a manageable take on Speculaas, their wonderful gingerbread biscuits. I’m too much of a turkey-traditionalist to want to swap out our actual Christmas dinner for something altogether new, but I’m always hungry for new ideas for meals over the whole of the festive period. I drew on the Dutch larder for a simple seafood feast to ring the changes in this meat-heavy time, and turned to Amsterdam’s Indonesian food culture for inspiration for an aromatic chicken biryani which, now I come to think of it, could also be turned into a dish to use up some of your Christmas turkey! And I’m glad to say that for a vegan-friendly version, it can be made with a butternut squash.
A showstopper of a cake always comes in handy over Christmas, but there’s always so much to get done and I wanted it to be easy to make when the pressure’s on: my No-Bake Advocaat and Ginger Cake is just that!
What is your favourite thing about this festive time of year?
What I love in particular is that sense of cocooning at home cosily when it’s cold and dark outside: there’s a warm glow that comes from fairy lights and candles that is utterly transporting: all I want to add to that is good food, my family and my friends. This cosiness, warmth and feeling of festive companionship is what the Dutch would call “gezellig” (pronounced “hezelligh”) and that’s exactly what the Christmas Special celebrates.
As a culinary pro, what’s your advice to people trying to manage a busy Christmas dinner?
I wouldn’t call myself a pro, in that I’ve never cooked professionally, but as a home cook with many years under her belt I’d say the essential thing is to pace yourself. If everything has to be done at the last minute, it becomes unmanageable and a recipe for frayed nerves. So, for example, when making the almond pastries, I make the paste one day when I can grab 10 minutes, and wrap it in (shop-bought) puff-pastry and bake it on another. I make the dough for my Speculaas biscuits in advance, too, and most of the Biryani is made ahead as well, so that when you want to serve it, you don’t do much more than layering up in a pan. Not only does it make the cooking practically easier, it also helps from a psychological perspective: you’re prepared, and can look forward to having friends around your table, rather than having to face hours and hours of monumental effort just as everyone’s descending on you.
And that’s the reason, too, that I concentrate cake-wise on something that can be made in advance (and making here indicates nothing more than a bit of laid-back layering up) and sit patiently in the fridge until needed. I’m interested in recipes that make life easier as well as more delicious!