Unlike the frenzied holidays of seasons past, this one is quieter. With so many plans canceled and calendars cleared, escapist cooking can bring new holiday thrills for ambitious cooks. These festive, intricate recipes are a labor of love but a joy to create. Treat yourself while you have the time.
Inspired by the desire to merge the flavors of wine and cheese, this vegetarian main or side from Yotam Ottolenghi is stunning — and has enough components to keep you idling at the stove for a cozy afternoon. Roast some butternut squash, pickle a fresh chile, prepare a creamy filling and tuck it all into an artfully arranged phyllo crust. The journey is as enjoyable as the result.
You can capture the flavors of porchetta at home with great success, thanks to this recipe from Melissa Clark. Start with a pork shoulder roast, score the skin to produce those amber cracklings, rub it with a fennel-and-lemon salsa verde and marinate. Then roast it until the meat is tender and the skin crackles. Slice any leftovers for sandwiches, or sharing.
Recipe: Porchetta Pork Roast
This five-star recipe from Melissa Clark deepens the flavor of traditional challah with the addition of olive oil and citrus zest, and creates an intricate pattern using six ropes of dough braided together. Observe how she does it in this video, then master the technique yourself at home.
Recipe: Olive Oil Challah
A perfect weekend project, this classic pierogi recipe from Bar Prasowy in Warsaw, adapted by Amelia Nierenberg, takes practice. The soft, buttery dough is easy to work with, but tucking in an ample amount of cheesy mashed potato and caramelized onion filling and sealing your dumplings into uniform half-moons is the challenge — and the most fun part. Marvel at your pierogi progress, then your dinner.
Curing gravlax requires more patience than effort, and it is a method worth mastering. The concept is simple: Rub your salmon with a mixture of salt and sugar, cloak it in a bed of fresh herbs, then let time transform it until “silky, flavorful to its core and easy to slice.” Dorie Greenspan recommends serving her recipe with aperitifs, but it’s equally at home on toast, bagels, crackers or salads.
Commonly enjoyed to celebrate the New Year in Japan, nishime is an impressive dish that requires care and attention. The chef Sydne Gooden updated her great-grandmother’s recipe, adding purple sweet potato and kabocha squash for bursts of color, but she otherwise stays true to the traditional method. Prepare a broth, kombu dashi, and simmer your chicken. Cook the vegetables in the liquid individually until crisp-tender. The resulting broth tastes like the sum of its parts, while its components retain their identities, each bite a new taste.
Yotam Ottolenghi promises that this festive dessert “is an absolute showstopper — and its striking results outweigh the effort.” He gives the traditional Yule log an update, adding coffee flavor to the chocolate cake and filling it with kumquat marmalade and mascarpone cream. Making candied citrus, toasted meringue and caramel shard toppings from scratch will make you feel like you just aced “The Great British Bake Off.”
Recipe: Kumquat and Chocolate Yule Log
This cooking project brings a serious wow factor, thanks to this duck’s beautifully shellacked, intensely garnet skin. Kay Chun whittles down what is typically a three-day process to just one. Her technique to ensure a crisp, crackly crust starts with loosening the skin on the duck, dousing it with boiling water to tighten, seasoning it with a honey and five-spice glaze, and air-drying overnight. Roast your duck set over a beer can for best results, then serve with hoisin sauce, scallions, cucumbers and tortillas — or homemade Mandarin pancakes, if you want to go the extra mile.
This 13-step recipe from the chef and pasta expert Evan Funke is exacting, but if you follow his instructions dutifully, you’ll wind up with intricate handmade pasta that is simultaneously springy and delicate. It’s the perfect introduction to the wide world of handmade pasta, and may eventually inspire you to dive into shaped pastas.
This breathtaking brisket from the food stylist and recipe developer Susan Spungen requires time, but its slow, spiced braise positions the oven to do most of the work. You’ll rub the meat with a coffee-paprika blend, brown it, surround it with red wine and pomegranate juice, then tuck it into the oven to cook until tender. Broiling and basting helps thicken the sauce until glossy, and fresh parsley and pomegranate seeds up the festivity factor.
Recipe: Spice-Rubbed Braised Brisket
This five-star recipe from J. Kenji López-Alt mashes together two recipes — potato gratin and Hasselback potatoes — to claim the best of both textures: rich, creamy potatoes with a crisp, cheesy crown. Set the slices on their sides in rows or circles, and feel free to play with patterns, or even intersperse fresh bay leaves, if you want to get creative.
Sam Sifton shared the recipe for these chicken tamales from Argelia Vergara, a Staten Island resident who makes them annually in December to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Mr. Sifton suggests putting any household helpers to work stuffing the softened corn husks with masa, shredded chicken and tomatillo salsa, but it’s also a calming, therapeutic task for one.
Recipe: Tamales Verdes
Brimming with seven types of fish, this centerpiece pie from Melissa Clark is “festive enough to serve for a blowout Christmas Eve meal, like the Italian-American celebration Feast of the Seven Fishes.” You can cut down on the amount of fillings, but do concentrate on assembly, sculpting puff pastry fish or even layering rounds of puff pastry on top to resemble fish scales. This savory pie will taste as memorable as it looks.
Recipe: Feast of the Seven Fishes Pie
Often served during the holidays in Jamaica, this curried goat recipe from Hazel Craig of Central Islip, N.Y., starts with toasting and blending cumin, coriander, turmeric and allspice to create curry powder. Mix that with some chile, garlic and onion to marinate your meat for up to three days before simmering with potatoes and water, and you’re guaranteed deeply flavorful results.
Recipe: Curried Goat
For the ultimate in ambitious home baking, tackle these Swedish kardemummabullar, knotted cardamom buns from Fabrique bakery. In 17 steps, you’ll create a yeasted dough, layer it with sweetened cardamom butter, cut it into strips, shape it into buns, proof it, bake it and brush it with toasted cardamom until its shell is caramelized. Buttery, cardamom-scented glory awaits.
Recipe: Swedish Cardamom Buns