Puddings and Cakes

Proper Old-Fashioned Christmas Tree Shortbread

Utterly delicious, delectable and delightful is this recipe for buttery, sweet shortbread! And also, they are a doddle to make and take only 10 minutes to cook. First batch was made on Sunday with the grand kids and I feel that we will be on at least our third batch by the end of week!

Makes 8 – 12 slices in a 23cm tin or numerous Christmas trees or stars!

What you need…

175g plain flour

125g butter, cubes and at room temperature

50g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

A good pinch of salt

1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out

Christmas tree or star-shaped cookie cutters and a lightly buttered baking sheet (or 1 x 23cm lightly buttered tart tin for more traditional shortbread slices)

What to do…

Preheat your oven to 190˚c / 375˚f / gas 5.

Chuck all the ingredients into your food processor and pulse until a dough is formed. Roll out and cut your chosen shapes out. Roll out again and repeat (you can probably only roll out twice as you don’t want to be fiddling around with the dough). Alternatively, roll it out to fit the tart tin, press the mixture in and fork the edges.

For the shortbread biscuits, bake in the oven for 10 minutes, until they are just starting to turn golden at the edges. If your cooking the big one in the tart tin, bake for 30 – 35 minutes and then cut it into 8 – 12 segments as soon as it comes of out the oven.

When cool, sprinkle with caster sugar (or spray with edible gold in Sophia’s case!)

That’s it! Enjoy with a hot cup of tea or just by themselves – seriously yummy!

 

Christmas Anglo Italian Trifle

No Christmas is complete without a little (or a lot) of trifle. I’ve tried many different recipes over the years but this one – inspired by Nigella, is my absolute favourite. And now for confession time: once the bowls are cleared and the left over trifle returned to the fridge, it will be seen complete with a sundae spoon…so I can just go in and have a large rounded spoonful on a whim! Disgusting habit, I know!!!!

If one could describe a dessert as voluptuous in flavour and totally indulgent, this would be it! Amaretti and sweetened mascarpone rather than cream give this trifle an Italian twist, something which is emphasised by the Limoncello that it is laced with. Definitely naughty but difficult to say no to a second helping. This Anglo Italian Trifle is best enjoyed with a group of rowdy, hedonistic friends after a dribbly lunch or dinner or as the perfect alternative (or addition) to Christmas Pudding.

Serves 12

What you need…

1 x pretty, 2-litre glass trifle bowl

8 trifle sponges

1 jar of blackcurrant jam

100g Amaretti biscuits, plus a handful for the topping

300ml Limoncello

600g frozen fruits, defrosted: summer fruits work well

2 eggs, separated

100g caster sugar

750g mascarpone cheese

What to do…

Split the trifle sponges and make into sandwiches with the jam; then wodge them into your trifle bowl. Crush the Amaretti biscuits in your hand and sprinkle them all over the trifle sponges then pour over 180ml Limoncello.

Tip the fruit over the sponges and Amaretti, perhaps arranging the bigger attractive fruit around the edges – for presentation purposes – you’ll be able to see them through the glass.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff. Put to one side.

In a large bowl, use an electric whisk to whisk together the egg yolks and caster sugar until the mixture is thick and smooth . Still whisking, slowly add 60ml of Limoncello, creating a light, moussey mixture. Whisk in the mascarpone until everything is smoothly combined. Add the remaining Limoncello and give the mixture a final whiz with the electric whisk. Tip in the egg white and fold in with a balloon whisk – this makes the mascarpone ‘cream’ lovely and airily light.

Dollop the mascarpone ‘cream’ on top of the fruit and gently, spread it a little, creating little soft peaks.

Cover the trifle and and pop in the fridge overnight, allowing all the flavours to gather and the Limoncello to permeate the fruit, sponges and Amaretti, mingling with the fruit to create sheer yumminess.

About one hour before you want to plunge the spoon into your delectable dessert, take it out of the fridge to come to room temperature. Just before serving, crush the remaining Amaretti biscuits and scatter over the top of the trifle. (We have also decorated our with birthday candles and made it a very special birthday cake). Your Anglo Italian Trifle is now ready to be demolished! Just gorgeous!

Tips…

Change the fruit to reflect the season.

Keep tasting the mascarpone cream as you add the Limoncello – I like my trifles quite boozy – you may want a little less alcohol….or perhaps a tad more!

Inspired by…

Nigella Lawson

How easy…

Dead easy: no cooking, more of an assembly job with a bit of whisking but it looks and tastes spectacular!

Vanilla and Amaretti Cheesecakes with Balsamic-Infused Strawberries (Revisited)

Right then, for reasons unknown, there are some people (Ben) who don’t like Christmas Pudding so I feel that this year, an alternative little delectable pud needs to be offered. These little darlings are the perfect solution. Firstly, they can be made one month in advance and frozen, with just the finishing touches required at the festive feast. And secondly, they are completely wow!

The rich, smooth creaminess of the cheesecakes are perfectly contrasted by the warm, sweet, lusciousness of the strawberries: their flavour emphasised by sweetened balsamic vinegar (most unexpected). They look fabulous, are so easy to make and taste out of this world! Only problem is, I might have to have one of these AND Christmas pudding…

Serves 4

What you need…

8 x chefs’ rings (like tall cookie cutters), 5.5cm diametre x 6cm deep (easily available online)

10 Amaretti biscuits

250g full fat cream cheese

125g caster sugar

125g crème fraiche

240ml double cream

1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out

for the strawberries

200g strawberries, hulled and quartered

2 teaspoons caster sugar

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

What to do…

In a large bowl, tip in your cream cheese, caster sugar, crème fraiche, double cream and vanilla seeds. Whisk until smooth and thickened up so that the whisks leave a distinct trail.

Place the chefs’ rings on a flat plate, lined with Bake O Glide or parchment paper. Spoon the cheesecake mixture into each ring, pushing the mixture down to make sure there are no gaps and filling the rings to about half way up (this recipe makes for quite little cheesecakes but in my view, they are perfectly proportioned).

Pop them in the fridge for at least 2 hours to set.

If you are having friends around for dinner, you can do this bit in the morning and leave the rest until you are about ready to serve.

If you are preparing them for waaaaay in advance, cover them with cling film and pop in the freezer until the day you want to indulge and then place them in the fridge to defrost slowly.

Just before you are ready to serve, pop your Amaretti biscuits into a plastic zip-lock bag and using a rolling pin, crush them inside the bag to create a dusting.

Remove the cheesecakes from the fridge and set aside at room temperature for 5 minutes.

Place the Amaretti crumbs on a plate and then dip each of the cheesecakes in their chefs’ rings into the crumbs, 2 – 3 times if necessary – to make sure that the bottom is thoroughly covered. Sprinkle the crumbs evenly over the top of each one as well.

Then, hold your breath (!) and lightly shake each cheesecake from the chefs’ ring onto its serving plate. Despite your total disbelief, it will gently drop down the ring and then plop out beautifully onto your serving plate – looking gorgeous!

Meanwhile, heat a saucepan over a high heat. Tip in the strawberries and sugar and cook, stirring continually for about 1 minute. Pour over the balsamic and cook for a further 1 minute. Yup, that’s it!!!!

Spoon some of the strawberries onto the plate alongside the cheesecake. Absolutely delicious – the strawberries contrast the cheesecake perfectly, both elements enhancing the flavour of the other. Serve your vanilla and Amaretti cheesecake with balsamic-infused strawberries together with a wee glass of Disaronno Italian liqueur or a lovely little dessert wine to complete the indulgence! An absolute treat to be enjoyed any time of the year, not just at Christmas!!!

Inspired by…

Stuart Gillies, with James Martin on Saturday Kitchen

How easy…

Really easy, the only nervy bit is when you’re watching the cheesecake slowly drop through the chefs’ rings but be patient and it will be fine!

 

Christmas Pud Revisited

Following on from the Christmassy theme started properly yesterday, it’s not too late to rustle up a rather lovely Christmas Pudding to grace your festive table in just over one month. Rich, boozy and another great recipe inspired by Delia Smith (have yet to take a good picture with the flaming brandy – will try again this year!)

For the full recipe, type ‘Christmas’ into the search button in the top right hand corner of my home page.

Bonfire Parkin (revisited)

Firstly, oh so yummy – salivating as I think about it. Ahem, so, according to James Martin, his family used to eat this on Bonfire night. We’ve made it an indecent number of times, mainly because 1) it’s dead easy 2) it’s gorgeous the minute it comes out of the oven 3) it’s even better the next day and 4) it gathers and gets better and better over 2- 3 days…if there’s any left!!!! Dark, rich, moist and sinful….xx

 

For the full recipe, type ‘parkin’ into the search box in the top right hand corner of my home page.

Chocolate Brownies with Caramel

So, my brownies (or Jamie’s I should say) have a growing fan base and are knocked up on a ridiculously frequent basis. They are dark, slightly gooey, indulgent little squares of naughtiness and I thought there would never be another brownie recipe to better them. However….drum roll….replacing 100g dark chocolate with dulce de leche (milk caramel spread) has made this version even moister and fabulously gooier but still incredibly chocolatey and practically molten inside – wow! To die for – give ‘em a go – best brownies I’ve ever tasted!!!

Makes 20 or so

What you need…

250g unsalted butter

100g 70% dark chocolate

225g (half a jar) of Dulce de Leche (milk caramel spread)

80g cocoa powder, sifted

65g plain flour, sifted

1 teaspoon baking powder

360g caster sugar

4 large free-range eggs

What to do…

Preheat your oven to 180°c / 350°f / gas 4.

Lightly butter and line a 24cm square baking tin with parchment paper. Roughly break up your chocolate and pop it into an heatproof bowl together with the butter. Put the bowl over a steamer, sitting in a saucepan of simmering water (bain marie). Melt the butter and chocolate, adding the dulce de leche when the chocolate is nearly all melted and mixing until smooth.

In another large bowl, thoroughly mix together the cocoa powder, flour, baking powder and sugar.

Take the melted butter and chocolate mixture off the heat and tip into the dry ingredients, using a hand held electric whisk to mix them together thoroughly.

Whisk the eggs and then tip them into the rest of the mixture, whisking them in until you have a lovely silky, glossy smooth mixture.

Pour your brownie mix into the baking tin and place in the oven for around 30 minutes or until the outside is slightly springy. Insert a wooden skewer to see if it’s cooked – it should be fabulously gooey rather than raw!

Allow to cool in the tin, then carefully invert the bake onto a large chopping board and cut into chunky squares. Purely for quality control reasons, now is a good time to try one – just to make sure that they are OK – and ooooooooh, yummy, reach for another…

Inspired by…

Well now, this is odd. Steve, our lovely window cleaner (and ex chef) came back from his holiday full of tales of afternoon teas and the most wonderful chocolate and caramel brownies, throwing down the gauntlet for me to try to recreate them: job done!!!!

How easy…

Dead easy and oh so worth the effort!

 

Cumberland Rum Nicky

Having seen this on last week’s Great British Bake Off, I had to give it a go and….and it’s absolutely delicious! It reminds me of mince pies but has a richer, boozier and sweeter flavour and is thoroughly moreish. And then there’s the rum butter – I didn’t have the full 75ml that Mr. Hollywood recommends and thank God – with just 50ml, it was still incredibly boozy and incredibly good – an excellent accompaniment to this fab pud! Definitely give this one a go!

Serves 8 – 10

What you need…

1 x 20cm pie dish, about 3cm deep, liberally buttered

for the filling

225g dates, coarsely chopped

100g dried apricots, coarsely chopped

50g stem ginger syrup, drained and finely chopped

50ml dark rum

50g soft dark brown sugar

50g unsalted butter, cut into 1–2cm cubes

for the sweet shortcrust pastry

200g plain flour

2 tablespoons icing sugar

100g cold unsalted butter, cut into 1cm cubes

1 large, happy egg, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon lemon juice

for the rum butter

100g unsalted butter, softened

225g soft light brown sugar

50ml dark rum

What to do…

Mix all the filling ingredients, except the butter, together in a bowl. Set aside

while you make the pastry.

Now, turn to making the pastry: tip the flour and icing sugar into your food processor and whizz together. Add in the cubed butter and whizz until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Tip the mixture into a mixing bowl.

Mix the egg with the lemon juice and two tablespoons of cold water. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and pour in the egg mixture. Using a table knife, work the liquid into the flour to bring the pastry together. If it seems too dry, add a splash more water. When the dough begins to stick together, use your hands to gently knead it into a ball. Wrap in cling film and rest in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.

Once the dough has rested, cut it into two pieces, roughly one-third and two-thirds. Roll out the larger piece on a lightly floured work surface. Line your pie dish with the pastry, leaving any excess pastry hanging over the edge. Tip the filling into the pastry case, spreading it evenly and dot with the butter.

Roll out the remaining pastry and cut it into eight long strips, roughly 1cm wide. On a sheet of baking parchment, use the pastry strips to create a lattice with four strips going each way, passing them under and over each other.

Dampen the edge of the pastry in the tin with water, then invert the lattice from the paper onto the tart. Press the ends of the strips to the pastry base to secure.

Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 160˚c / 325˚f / gas 3 and cook for a further 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, for the rum butter, use an electric handheld whisk to beat together the butter and sugar, then gradually beat in the rum. Pop into the fridge until needed.

Serve the tart hot, with a spoonful of rum butter. Absolutely, fabulously delicious!

Inspired by…

Paul Hollywood and The Great British Bake Off

How easy…

Really easy and an absolute joy to make.

Luscious Lemon Pavlova

Wow! I’m not a great fan of lemon curd (but made my own which is waaaaay nicer than shop-bought) but was drawn to this recipe anyway. The fabulous crisp, sweet crust of the meringue with its soft, light centre contrasts superbly with the sweet but tart lemon curd and the cloud-like whipped cream that tops it. A sprinkling of lemon zest and toasted almond slivers completes this luscious pudding that Nigella quite rightly describes as a ‘triumph’ – easy and glorious – give it a go!

Serves: 8-12

What you need…

1 x baking tray, lined with baking parchment

6 happy egg whites

375g caster suga

2½ teaspoons cornflour

Grated zest of 2 lemons, separated

Juice of 1 lemon

50g flaked almonds

300ml double cream

325g jar lemon curd (I used homemade but shop bought is fine)

What to do…

Preheat your oven to 180˚c / 350˚f / gas 4/.

Using a handheld electric whisk, beat the egg whites until satiny peaks form, then beat in the sugar one large spoonful at a time until the meringue is stiff and shiny.

Sprinkle over the cornflour, then the zest of one lemon and 2 teaspoons of lemon juice.

Using a balloon whisk, gently fold in until everything is thoroughly mixed together. Mound onto your lined baking tray in a fat circle approximately 23cm in diameter, smoothing the top with a spatula.

Pop into your oven, then immediately turn the temperature down to 150˚C / 300˚f / gas 2 and cook for 1 hour.

Switch off your oven put leave your rather gorgeous pavlova in there for a further 30 minutes but with the door completely open – this will stop it cracking too quickly as it cools down.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely.

Just before you’re ready to indulge, slide your pavlova onto a pretty serving plate.

Toast the flaked almonds, by frying them in a dry pan over a moderate heat until they have started to colour, shaking the pan regularly. Don’t take your eyes off them – this takes just a minute or so and they burn really easily. When they’re done, remove to a cold plate so that they don’t carry on cooking.

Whip the cream until soft peaks are formed (or as Nigella says, ‘has a soft voluptuousness about it!!!!!) and set aside.

If your lemon curd is shop-bought, put it into a bowl and beat it with a wooden spoon to loosen it a little and then taste it, adding a squeeze of juice if it’s too sweet.

With a light hand, a glad heart and a spatula (these are her exact words and whilst I normally re-write the recipes from scratch, this somewhat gloriously ridiculous line HAD to be left in) spread the lemon curd on top of the meringue base. Top with the whipped cream, peaking it as if it were a meringue topping and then sprinkle with the remaining lemon zest followed by the flaked almonds.

I should say serve, but honestly, once you’ve tasted the first mouthful, you’ll want to attack and devour the rest – an absolute triumph of a pudding!!!!!

Inspired by…

Nigella Lawson

How easy…

Really easy and it is rather a show-stopper of a pud for very little effort!