Get the idea: Christmas desserts for the un-traditionalist
I love any celebration and I love Christmas. Maybe it is some kind of love for big, shared meals and the fuss of present giving that I inherited with my Italian genes.
It is also great opportunity to go overboard with the cooking, something I see as a positive and maybe a symptom of withdrawal for this ex-professional who misses cooking for a crowd. Non-professionals should delegate and not try to do everything themselves.
It is also the only festival with special food that our culture has left. Though I like serving the traditional northern European winter Christmas food such as roast turkey and plum pudding (because they mean Christmas to me), I often vary the offerings with a cold seafood starter. As I have a wicked sweet tooth I also usually include some untraditional desserts. The following are a few ideas.
Stone lots of cherries (use a cherry pitter or just cut an opening and gently squeeze out the stones), sprinkle with a little sugar and plenty of port. Make or buy a rich chocolate cake and serve in slices with the cherries and chocolate icecream.
Watch my quick sponge video and make a thin sponge cake. Cut it into two identical rectangles and sprinkle each well with rum. Make a sandwich with the two pieces of sponge and fill with diced fresh pineapple and drained sliced canned mangoes. Sprinkled with crushed palm sugar and toasted coconut. Pour the mango syrup over the whole thing and serve sprinkled with more coconut and with thick coconut cream for pouring.
Buy or make little profiteroles (choux pastries). Fill each with real vanilla ice cream and pile into a pyramid on a serving plate. Drizzle extravagantly with chocolate sauce and surround with lots of fresh berries of your choice. Whipped cream on the side.
Make a strawberry Victoria sponge by using my sponge video recipe but make it into two rounds in two 22cm diameter spring-form tins. Spread one half with strawberry jam, plenty of whipped cream with enough brandy in it to taste and sliced strawberries. Top with the other round, cover with lots more whipped cream and sliced strawberries, dust with icing sugar and serve.
Peel and deseed a watermelon. Puree the flesh in a food processor and add sugar to taste and stir in some chocolate chips (a Sicilian idea as they look like the watermelon’s pips). Pour into a shallow dish and freeze, stirring occasionally as it freezes so you have an icy watermelon granita. Serve in chilled tall glasses sprinkled with blackberries, with a dollop of whipped cream.
Make a raspberry fool with whipped cream and lots of slightly crushed raspberries. Put broken sponge fingers (savoiardi or boudoir biscuits) into an impressive bowl and sprinkle well with orange juice — or grappa if there aren’t too many kids around. Pile the raspberry fool on top and sprinkle crushed amaretti biscuits and pomegranate seeds over everything.
Everyone likes Eton mess and I make it with any fresh berries to hand. Puree some of the berries with a little icing sugar to make a runny sauce. Reserve. Break up homemade or bought meringues into small bite-sized pieces and fold together with plenty of slightly crushed berries and whipped cream. Pile into stemmed glasses, add a dollop of the sauce and serve. I also like it well sprinkled with chopped Toblerone.
Again with the sponge video. Make a simple cassata (which is a Sicilian cake, not an icecream) with two rounds of sponge sandwiched with sweetened sheep’s milk ricotta, finely diced candied orange peel and chopped dark chocolate. Cover the cake with thinly rolled bought marzipan in one piece (the marzipan will mould itself over the cake). Decorate the cassata with candied fruit and refrigerate for an hour or two. Serve, untraditionally, with whipped cream.
Buy some small sweet tartlet shells. Bring 150ml of cream to the boil, remove from the heat. Stir in 250g of chopped milk chocolate until completely dissolved, fill each tartlet halfway with this mixture and let them cool. Place small strawberries side by side on top of the chocolate mix and brush liberally (no gaps) with just-melted redcurrant jelly. Let it set and serve tartlets on a large tray with extra strawberries.
Soak golden raisins, sliced dried figs and currants in a little brandy for an hour. Stone and slice cherries, peaches, nectarines, apricots and plums. Place in a large shallow ovenproof dish, add a big splash of red wine and a cinnamon stick and bake at 200C until browned and soft. Remove from the oven and cool. Stir the dried fruit mixture into the roasted fruit mixture and sprinkle well with muscovado sugar. Serve in a big crystal bowl with bought creme anglaise or custard and whipped cream.