Christmas comes with a healthy helping of Swiss delicacies

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I AM looking forward to spending my first festive season in my new home and to introducing customers of all ages to a little slice of the culinary Christmas delights I grew up with in my native Switzerland. We are preparing to spend our first festive season at Yummleys. It is amazing to think that 12 months ago our country coffee shop didn’t exist except in our imagination.

We have certainly packed a lot into our first nine months at what was the old Red Lion Pub in Reston.

Many people are familiar with stollen – a peel-studded cake wrapped around a marzipan centre that is meant to represent Jesus in swaddling clothes.

But there are many other gorgeous traditional Swiss Christmas cakes and foods that will be unfamiliar to the Scottish palate.

Brunsli (brownies), chräbeli (anise cookies), zimtsterne (cinnamon biscuits), Mailänderli (Milano biscuits in the shape of stars, bells and angels) and Dreikönigskuchen (Epiphany cake), eaten on January 6, are just a few festive delicacies I grew up enjoying.

The festive season began in Switzerland on St Nicholas Day – December 6. Preparations would have started in November with many bakers and sweet shops turning their windows into fantastically edible Christmas displays. The Christmas trees would have gone up on December 6 too and in the evening Samichlaus (St Nicholas) dressed in his red tunic would have visited all the children with his scary helper Schmutzli who carries a broom of twigs and admonishes all those kids who have not behaved themselves throughout the year (I grew up in a rural farming community and I used to take this very seriously!)

St Nicholas would have then handed out a couple of pre-Christmas gifts and perhaps a few smaller offerings like apples and nuts or gingerbread.

Christmas itself in Switzerland is not much different to the celebrations here in Scotland. Most businesses close early on Christmas Eve and families will then gather to share their main festive feast. We would have a starter of smoked salmon, prawns and pâté followed by something like roast beef, goose or capon with all the trimmings (turkey is not a traditional Swiss festive meal) and then Lebkuchen (gingerbread cake) or rich chocolatey Schmutzli Schoggi torte.

The presents would then be handed out. If we weren’t too tired we would go to midnight mass.

Christmas Day is traditionally a quieter affair in Switzerland than here in the UK with another celebratory meal to which friends are invited. The festivities will continue on and off throughout the week until New Year.

My Christmas is now a combination of traditional British with a nod towards my Swiss ancestry.

We will be sitting down to an organically reared roast goose (I have never acquired the taste for turkey) from Alemill Farm near Eyemouth. The way I like it cooked is to place an orange in the body cavity, swathe it in organic bacon, pepper and butter to keep it extra moist, and then serve with a selection of winter vegetables.

And we will manage to squeeze in a slice or two of Christmas pudding with whisky sauce.

Oli Hoffer is owner and head chef at Yummleys’ Country Coffee Shop in Reston. Tel 01890 761 266 or go to