Although our family favours tried and true traditional desserts at Christmas, we add little twists and tweaks that provide interest.
The Yule Log has been a favourite in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Canada and Vietnam for centuries. A variation of a rolled chocolate sponge that sometimes has a thick, diagonally-cut slice placed on top, highlighting the curls of whipped cream that resemble the concentric circles of the growth of a tree.
In Shakespeare’s day, the traditional British Christmas plum pudding was a plum porridge prepared from meat stock, fruit juice, prunes, mace and breadcrumbs. It morphed into a more solid temptation over the years — shaped into a ball, tied in a cloth and boiled. The Victorians took it to another level and put it in a basin to boil. For those who are not tempted by the pud itself or, to use up leftover pud, it can be combined with brandy, mascarpone and sliced apple, then rolled in filo pastry and baked, changing it from a traditional treat to a contemporary mouth-waterer.
Pecan Pie is a popular Thanksgiving and Christmas dessert in the USA and Canada. Pecans originated in the USA being propagated by native Americans. As the name is derived from the French word ‘pacane’, some people believe the French invented this pie after settling in New Orleans.
FRENCH YULE LOG
Gluten-free. I garnished the log with fresh cherries and red currants, mini meringues and sifted icing sugar. The log can be filled and frozen for up to 2 months.
Log: 175g dark chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup cream
5 eggs, separated
1 cup caster sugar
Filling: 3/4 cup cream
2 tablespoons icing sugar
1 cup pitted cherries, optional
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line a 23cm x 33cm sponge roll pan.
Melt the chocolate in the 1/4 cup of cream over hot — not boiling — water. Beat, until smooth. Beat the egg yolks and caster sugar in a large bowl until thick. Fold the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture.
With clean beaters, whip the egg whites, until stiff. Fold into the chocolate mixture. Pour into the prepared sponge roll pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a fine skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Remove from the oven, place the pan on a rack and cover with a clean cloth. Cool for a few minutes. Turn out onto a sheet of baking or waxed paper that has been lightly dusted with icing sugar. Cool completely.
To make the filling, whip the cream and icing sugar together, until stiff peaks form. Spread the cherries over the roll — if using —then cover with cream. Carefully roll up using the baking paper to help roll it firmly. Lift onto a serving dish with a wide spatula. Serves 8.
CHRISTMAS PLUM PUDDING STRUDEL
Use a good commercially prepared pud or see my microwave Christmas Pudding at janbilton.co.nz
Filling: 350g plum pudding, crumbled
2 tablespoons each: brandy, mascarpone or light cream cheese
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
Crumb Mixture: 1/4 cup dried breadcrumbs eg Panko
2 tablespoons each: ground almonds, brown sugar
Filo: 4 sheets filo pastry
25g butter, melted
Combine the plum pudding, brandy and mascarpone in a bowl. Mix well. Peel, core and thinly sliced the apple.
Combine the crumb mixture.
Place a sheet of filo on a clean bench. Brush with the melted butter. Sprinkle with 1-2 tablespoons of the crumb mixture. Continue layering the filo sheets on top brushing each with butter and dusting with the crumb mixture.
Place the filling down one long edge of the filo. Top neatly with the apple slices. Fold in the ends then roll up to enclose the filling. Place on a greased oven tray and brush with more butter. Chill while the oven heats.
Preheat the oven to 190°C. Bake the strudel for about 20 minutes, until golden and hot.
Serve dusted with icing sugar. Great served with whipped cream or custard. Serves 6-8.
Americans use corn syrup but golden syrup is a good substitute.
400g sweet short pastry
1 1/4 cups lightly toasted pecans
1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
3/4 cup golden syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Lightly grease a 25cm pie or flan dish.
Roll out the pastry and line the pie plate. Trim the edges and prick the base. Press a sheet of foil on the base and sides of the pastry. Bake for 12 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking for 2-3 minutes. Remove and place the pecans evenly over the pastry base.
Reduce the oven heat to 180°C.
To make the filling, cream the butter and brown sugar until light. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the syrup, vanilla essence and salt. Mix well and pour over the pecans. Bake for 40-45 minutes until just set in the centre. The pecans should rise to the top. Cool then refrigerate until required. Serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 8.