Christmas — a time to indulge in delicious desserts.
But it's important to balance rich temptations with generous servings of fresh summer fruits. A (glass) bowl of mixed berries such as blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries is simple, eye-catching — and delectable.
For variation, enhance berries with a balsamic syrup. Combine equal amounts of good balsamic vinegar and sugar. Heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Cool. Drizzle a little over the berries just before serving with lavish dollops of whipped cream, ice cream or yoghurt.
There are some excellent accompaniments available to serve with your desserts. Clotted cream — a thick, cooked cream —is heaven with fresh berries. Crème fraîche with a slightly sour flavour — similar to a mild yoghurt — is also a good match with fruit. It can be thinned with a little liquid cream.
The versatile pavlova is still one of our most popular desserts. Top with whipped cream, custard, ice cream or lemon curd and serve garnished with fresh fruit, Christmas fruit mincemeat, chopped ginger and/or chocolate, nuts, or drizzle with fruit purées, melted chocolate or caramel sauce.
RASPBERRY MERINGUE CAKE
Melt-in-your mouth delicious, this food-processor cake is similar to a Victoria Sponge. For a lighter cake, cream the butter and sugar until light. There are multiple steps but you can prepare days ahead. Based on a recipe given to me by Megan my hairdresser in Cambridge.
Sugar Syrup: 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup brandy
Sponge Cake: 225g butter, room temperature
1 cup caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
4 large eggs
200g self-raising flour
2 1/2 tablespoons cornflour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4-1/2 cup milk
Filling: 2 cups thick custard (store bought)
400g raspberries, fresh or frozen
Decoration: 4 egg whites
1 cup caster sugar
70g flaked almonds
250g fresh raspberries
Bring the sugar and water to the boil in a small saucepan, stirring often. Simmer until syrupy. Cool then stir in the brandy. Cover and refrigerate.
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Lightly butter two 21cm springform cake pans. Line the bases with baking paper.
Place the butter and caster sugar in a food processor and beat until smooth. Add the vanilla, eggs, flour, cornflour and baking powder. Mix until well combined. Add enough milk to make a dropping consistency. Pour equal amounts of the mixture into the prepared pans. Bake for 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool.
Slice each cake in half horizontally to make 4 rounds. Place on a tray. Brush evenly with the sugar syrup allowing it to soak in.
Line a baking tray with baking paper. Place one cake round on the paper. Cover with one third of the custard. Top evenly with 1/3 of the raspberries. Repeat twice then tier one on top of the other. Top with the remaining cake round. Cover and refrigerate for 1 day.
To decorate, first preheat the oven to 220°C.
Beat the eggs whites until frothy. Slowly beat in the caster sugar until shiny and soft peaks form. Spread evenly over the top and sides of the cake on the oven tray. Press the almonds around the sides. With the remaining meringue, pipe rosettes or make quenelles on top.
Bake for 4-5 minutes or until lightly browned. Carefully remove to a serving plate. Cool. Refrigerate for up to 4 hours or overnight. Just before serving, place the fresh raspberries on top of the cake in the centre. Serves 10-12.
FAST FESTIVE FLAN
I made a filo flan for the base but you could also use a sponge flan from your supermarket or deli. The mascarpone filling is versatile: use in profiteroles, sponge cakes, chocolate logs and more.
Mascarpone Filling: 1 cup mascarpone
1/2 cup cream
1/3 cup icing sugar
Flan: 4 sheets filo pastry
25g butter, melted
500-700g strawberries (hulled), or a mixture of berries
12 mini meringues (see recipe), optional
Using an electric beater, whip the mascarpone and salt until light. With the motor running gradually add the cream then the icing sugar. Cover and refrigerate — 4 hours or up to 2 days — until ready to use.
Preheat the oven to 190°C.
Brush each sheet of filo with butter and layer in a 20cm flan dish placing each sheet on an angle to the other so the dish is evenly covered. Fold in the pastry edges to form a neat rim. Line the filo with greased foil.
Bake in the middle of the oven for 10 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking for a few minutes, until the centre is lightly coloured. Cool. Prepare 2-3 days ahead and store in an airtight container.
To serve, fill the flan with the mascarpone. Halve any large the strawberries. Pile on top of the mascarpone. Dot with mini meringues (if using) sandwiched together with whipped cream.
Great served dusted with icing sugar and garnished with mint leaves. Serves 6.
These will keep in an airtight container in a cool place for weeks. Excellent for serving with coffee or decorating cakes and desserts.
1 egg white
1/3 cup caster sugar
Preheat the oven to 160°C. Line a large baking tray with baking paper.
Whisk the egg white and salt in a small bowl, until stiff. Gradually add the caster sugar about a tablespoon at a time, beating until smooth and glossy. Drop or pipe small teaspoonfuls onto the tray. Place in the oven.
Reduce the oven temperature to 130°C. Bake the meringues for 30 minutes. Turn the oven off and leave the meringues to cool. Makes about 20.
FROZEN CHRISTMAS PUD
This can be frozen several days — or even weeks — in advance.
400g mixed dried fruit
50g each: red, green glacé cherries, halved
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup each: cream, brandy
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
100g blanched almonds, chopped
2 litres French vanilla ice cream
Topping: 100g plain chocolate, melted
Line the base and sides of a 1.5 litre pudding bowl with plastic film.
Place the butter, dried fruit, cherries, brown sugar and cream in a saucepan. Heat until the butter is melted. Add the brandy and baking soda. Simmer for 3-4 minutes until the baking soda stops fizzing. Stir in the almonds. Cool a little.
Break up the ice cream in a large bowl. Stir in the just-warm fruit mixture. Pour into the prepared pudding basin. Freeze for at least 24 hours before turning onto a serving plate.
To serve, slowly pour the melted chocolate over the top allowing it to dribble down the sides. Serves 8-10.