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Former royal chef Darren McGrady opens up about Christmas traditions at Windsor Castle

By Heather Cichowski

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In light of COVID-19, the Queen and Prince Philip will spend Christmas at Windsor Castle. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh haven't spent the holidays there since 1987, but royals still have memories and traditions associated with Christmas in Windsor.

In a new video, former royal chef Darren McGrady opened up about cooking for the Queen at Windsor Castle – and he showed viewers how to make a delicious chocolate yule log.


The Queen has been described as a "chocoholic," and according to Darren she especially loves dark chocolate. The royal kitchen's recipe stays true to that with a chocolate sponge and chocolate ganache. Traditionally, the yule log would have buttercream rather than ganache. The ganache (a mixture of chocolate and cream) is the same one used in Her Majesty's birthday cake every year!

Potato starch was another surprising addition to the treat. Darren revealed the unexpected ingredient helped keep the sponge moist. Along with the coat of chocolate ganache, this allowed the yule log to stay out in the royal dining room for three to four days!

The royal yule log was decorated with royal icing swirls to represent the rings of a tree as well as "moss" made from green marzipan. It then to the royal dining room to be served with Christmas cakes and mince pies.

While making the recipe, Darren spoke about cooking for the Royal Family at Christmas at Windsor and Sandringham for 11 years. He also shared some delicious-looking photos of some of the meals.

The finishing touches on a table being set in Windsor Castle's State Dining Room for a Victorian Christmas feast using porcelain dessert service by Minton of Staffordshire, which Queen Victoria bought at the Great Exhibition of 1851. Photo: © Steve Parsons/PA Images via Getty Images

Darren said Christmas preparations began early at Buckingham Palace, with the chefs responsible for making all of the Christmas cakes and puddings for the royal dining room and royal nursery. On Christmas Day, they were tasked with feeding 100 staff as well as the Royal Family. Two 25-pound turkeys went into the royal dining room and another one went into the royal nursery!

"I travelled all over the world with the Royal Family, to all the different residences," said Darren in the video. "But Christmas at Windsor Castle, it was just something special. 'Walking in the Windsor Wonderland,' as we used to sing in the kitchens.

"I don't know if it was Christmas with the Queen, Christmas in a castle, or the Victorian menu, but it just made it so magical."

In addition to Christmas lunch, the Royal Family enjoyed a traditional Victorian buffet in the evening, which had a vast array of dishes including venison, pork, salmon, smoked turkey, lamb, goose, boar's head, honey ham, foie gras and more. There were also plenty of mince pies! The courses were separated by afternoon tea. (Are you hungry yet?!)

Darren also fondly spoke of Christmases when Prince William, Prince Harry, Princess Beatrice, Princess Eugenie, Zara Tindall, Peter Phillips and more were young and the whole family gathered together.

MORE: Prince William and Duchess Kate release surprise Christmas video for front-line workers

The Queen recently had a heartwarming reunion with many members of the Royal Family at Windsor Castle. On Dec. 8, the monarch got together with Duchess Kate and William fresh off their royal train tour!

(L-R) Prince Edward, the Countess of Wessex, Duchess Kate, Prince William, the Queen, Prince Charles, Duchess Camilla and Princess Anne reunited at Windsor Castle to thank local volunteers and key workers on Dec. 8, 2020. Photo: © Max Mumby/Indigo - Pool/Getty Images

They were joined by Prince Charles, Duchess Camilla, Princess Anne, the Countess of Wessex and Prince Edward for a carol session in the quadrangle at Windsor Castle to thank front-line and key workers who have worked tirelessly during the coronavirus pandemic.

In this challenging time, it’s really hard to be separated from family and friends. It’s also a time when everyone needs a beautiful escape. Here at Hello! Canada, we’re still busy creating the magazine you know and love, to spread positivity and provide some entertainment as a gentle reprieve from all the hard news. And special offer for subscribers, there’s never been a better time to have Hello! delivered directly to your front door. Why not treat yourself, or someone you love, today?

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