The secrets behind this year's most popular Christmas party foods

Eve O'Sullivan
21 December, 2015

Ever wondered how your favourite shop-bought treats are made? We spoke to three product developers at M&S to find out how they came up with wonders such as fizz and sparkle crisps, yule log cream liqueur, and that hidden middle penguin party cake.

Lucy Herbert on the Winter Berries and Prosecco crisps

How did the idea for this come about?

There has been a big trend for unusual crisp flavours over the last few years. The winter berries and prosecco crisps are already proving popular, outselling both our traditional cheese and onion and salt and vinegar crisps!

Can you explain how you distill the flavours?

To create the distinctive flavour, M&S Prosecco is dried into a fine powder, then mixed with powdered blackcurrant and raspberry juice for a rich colour and delicious fruitiness, and edible golden stars are then added for extra sparkle. The crisps are then coated in the fizzy fruity mix and hand-cooked in batches. 

We worked closely with a team of chefs to develop the perfect flavour with a great fizzing sensation.

What dips or drinks go best with these crisps?

A glass of prosecco is the perfect accompaniment, no need for anything else!

If you could create any crisp flavour in 2016, what would it be, and why?

We are constantly watching trends and coming up with new flavour combinations – watch this space for what’s next!

Jenny Rea on Yule Log Cream Liqueur

What is it that makes this so much better than any other cream liqueur?

We wanted to create a drink that encapsulated all the delicious flavours of a chocolate yule log so spent a lots of time developing the liqueur to get it just right. The result is a beautifully rich cream, perfect for chocoholics!

Can you suggest any simple cocktail recipes to use this?

Creams aren’t great for making cocktails – we’d recommend drinking this simply over the rocks or pouring over ice cream for a decadent treat.

What food would you serve this with?

It’s best enjoyed with ice cream, but can also be used as an ingredient to make tasty cupcakes or a cheesecake.

How many versions of the drink did you have to make to create the perfect balance?

We tried almost 10 versions before deciding on the liqueur with the perfect balance – it’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it!

Helen Brennan on the Penguin Party Madeira Cake

Penguin madeira cake marks and spencer

Can you explain a little about the inspiration for ‘hidden surprises’ this year?

Every year we do a family cake to make people smile. We've done a cake with sweeties inside before, but not an image. It's quite complex. The idea for the Penguin Cake came from the snow scene our designers developed for the whole Christmas food range. We tried a polar bear first but it didn’t work as well as the penguin. And it took a few goes to get the cake looking this good! Early attempts to cut it open in front of roomfuls of people always left me holding my breath! But now the cake it works perfectly every time.

How hard is it to make this on such a big scale?

Our Penguin Party Madeira Cake is definitely one of our most complex cakes ever. Each one has 27 different components, from our signature all-butter Madeira sponge and buttercream filling to handmade snowballs and penguin eyes. We did lots of travel trials to ensure it doesn't arrive at people's homes with penguin heads skating all over the ice, and it's now perfect.

What are your top tips for making novelty shaped cakes at home?

Practice makes perfect. They’re tricky, so if you’re making the cake for a special occasion make sure you do several trial runs!

Can you tell us an interesting fact about the production of the cake?

It takes 52 people to assemble the cake!

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