Ask Peter: Christmas desserts
Our family take turns to do different courses for our Christmas meal. I have drawn dessert this year. I have found in previous years that everyone is a little past it all come dessert time — we start with breakfast, move to nibbles and Champagne at 11 with a full three-course lunch at 2pm. I would like to serve a selection of light sweets that people could take their time to graze over in the early evening. Do you have a few ideas that would provide a little wow factor? I’d love to do a fruit salad or similar that’s got a point of difference. Lani
I well understand your concern. By the time dessert is about to be served I’m often wishing I could just have a walk instead, myself. However, sometimes I think it can be the rather large portions or the way desserts are treated over Christmas that puts people off.
In my mind, individual portions of a fruity trifle (served in gorgeous cut-glass glasses you’ve found in a second-hand shop, for example) would make a welcome treat. A trifle where some (if not all) of the milk in the custard has been replaced with coconut milk instead of milk or cream and where the only fruits are refreshing berries, passionfruit, mango and stonefruit.
Your friends and family can take a portion when they want it, rather than feel like they must eat it when the big bowl is placed on the table, and you can have sneaky seconds if you clock your father isn’t going to have any.
I also really like barbecuing or frying the Christmas cake or steamed pudding rather than having it steamed. Sure, cook the pudding as you should (a microwave saves so much power I’m surprised it isn’t a requirement from the environmental bodies) but then cut into slices and either fry in butter or brush with sunflower oil and barbecue it.
This, served with a dollop of mascarpone or creme fraiche and the same fruits as above will transform this stodgy pud that Gran insists on into a caramelised fruity delicious moreish “must have” for years to come.
If you’re just wanting to serve fruit, then I’d suggest you serve a combo of the above (and I chose them because they’re all high-impact sweet and with enough acidity to make them refreshing) with some dried fruits or non-seasonal pears and apples that you’ve poached with lots of aromatic spices such as star anise, cardamom, cloves, toasted fennel seeds, vanilla and ginger.
The combo of the super-fresh and richly poached works a treat and you can serve this with sorbet and biscuits. There are so many amazing sorbets available in New Zealand shops so take your pick — I tend to have one coconutty, one tropical fruity and one traditional vanilla icecream for those less adventurous.
Baby meringues make great Christmas Day treats when you dollop them with fresh fruit, especially if you whip equal parts cream and Greek-style yoghurt with some honey until soft peaks form and put this on first.
If you’re a macaron-maker or can buy individual ones that haven’t been sandwiched together, then use these as a meringue replacement. These will be super cute and small and almost more canape in character than dessert.
Baklava is a great grazing sweet, but many find it too sweet. For me it’s a regular treat at home as my local Turkish shop often slips me a packet when I buy a lot from them. To make these more palatable, cut them into 2 or 3 and arrange on a platter with diced mangoes, pineapple, watermelon and halved strawberries.
Serve with toothpicks and your family can help themselves. And if you haven’t yet become overwhelmed by fruit mince pies, they are fantastic served warm, dolloped with the same cream mentioned above and smothered with berries smashed with icing sugar and vanilla extract!
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.