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Carrot and stick

Christmas has been exhausting.

Plenty of hard manual labour in mum’s new garden (650 potted plants arrived just in time for the gardeners to take their Christmas break) kept us hungry day after day, feast after feast. It turns out that digging in what is essentially rock and rubble rather than soil is quite the workout. It’s amazing how much energy you burn when wielding a pick axe.

DS and my brothers shouldered the lion’s share of the grunt work and axe throwing. Jokes about spending Christmas in the Gulag didn’t seem wholly misplaced - DS emerged covered in blisters and with a bad back, and both brothers temporarily lost the use of their hands. The daily feasts, desserts and teatime cakes provided the proverbial carrot, so I was integral to the whole operation, really.

Here are a few festive puds which went down particularly well. Technically no carrot involved, but a pretty fine source of motivation none the less.


Serves 6, takes 20 minutes, plus chilling time

perennial / dessert / party / show off / easy peasy / ready in a jiffy / vegetarian

This is the real deal. An unctuous and simply perfect recipe from MS’s italian grandmother.

At dinner last night, when my brother had finished his, he said it had given him another reason to live. Those few minutes of intense pleasure made whole months of his life seem dull in comparison, he said. He was so concentrated on savouring every bite, that he had the impression that he was experiencing life to the absolute full. A taste sensation nirvana. It’s pretty much the highest culinary compliment anyone has ever paid me. Perhaps that's why the italians call it ‘pick me up’ (tira - mi - su).

* Eggs - 3

* Caster sugar - 40g

* Whiskey - 3 tbsp

* Mascarpone - 250 g

* Strong coffee - 100ml

* Cat’s tongue biscuits (is that what they’re called?) - 1 packet

* Cocoa powder - for dusting

Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites. In a large bowl, whisk the yolks with the sugar until the mixture is pale and thick. Add 2 tbsp of whiskey, along with the mascarpone and whisk to combine.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the mascarpone mixture, trying to retain as much air as possible.

Add the remaining tablespoon of whiskey to the coffee.

To assemble the tiramisu:

Place a layer of biscuit in the bottom of a large dish, or each glass if you prefer to make individual portions. You can crumble the biscuits if you’re making individual ones.

Drizzle coffee over the biscuit layer, enough to wet the biscuits but not drench them.

Next spoon a layer of mascarpone mixture into the dish(es). Then, using a small sieve, sprinkle cocoa powder generously over the top.

Repeat each step to make a double layered tiramisu.

Raspberry souffle with chocolate sorbet

Serves six, takes 40 minutes plus freezing time

perennial / dessert / party / show off / not too tricky / vegetarian / gluten free / date night

Disclaimer. Not my picture. But I promise mine looked as good.

Earlier in the week, Brother Number One had gone into similar raptures over this scrumptious hot souffle with cold sorbet. Hot and cold, cold and hot. Yin and yan, pleasure and pain. It’s all good.

There are quite a few stages involved, but nothing too complicated considering how impressive it looks and tastes.

For the sorbet:

* 85% chocolate - 150g

* Caster sugar - 100g

* Cardamom - 4 pods

For the souffle:

* Raspberries - 300g (thawed from frozen is fine, and preferable out of season. If using fresh, use 500g)

* Egg whites - 4

* Caster sugar - 50g

Equipment - six souffle dishes

Start by making the sorbet. Finely chop the chocolate and place it in a freezer-proof bowl.

Bring 250ml of water to the boil with the sugar and cardamom in a small saucepan. Simmer for a few minutes, stirring often, until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Set aside and leave to infuse for about 10 minutes.

Lift out the cardamom pods and set aside, then pour the syrup over the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate has almost entirely dissolved. It’s lovely if you can keep small flecks of solid chocolate within the mixture to give a 'chocolate chip' texture when frozen.

Leave to cool for half and hour and then place in the freezer. Every half an hour, take out the sorbet and whisk well with a fork, making sure you scrape off all the crystals from the around the edge of the bowl each time. After a few hours, you should have a thick, sorbet texture. If you’ve made the sorbet well in advance, take it out of the freezer when you put the souffle in the oven to give it time to thaw a little.

Next prepare the souffle. Using the back of a wooden spoon, push the raspberries through a sieve set over a bowl to create a smooth coulis.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites into soft peaks. Add the sugar and whisk again to combine.

Prepare the souffle dishes by lightly greasing them with butter and sprinkling the inside evenly with caster sugar. This will ensure the souffles rise properly.

You can do up to here in advance. The last stage needs to be done when you’re ready to eat the souffle.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C.

If the egg whites have collapsed or separated a little, whisk them again. Then gently fold in the raspberry puree with a large metal spoon. Try and retain as much air as possible in the mixture.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared souffle dishes. Place the dishes onto a baking tray and then into the oven. Bake for about 12 minutes. Keep an eye on them for the last minutes of cooking. They’re done when they have risen well and are starting to colour on the top.

Remove from the oven and place each souffle dish on a small plate to serve. Careful, the dishes are hot! At the table, plunge a scoop of chocolate sorbet into each souffle. Devour.

Pear and ginger ‘custard' ‘trifle’

Serves 6, takes about an hour, plus chilling time

autumn / winter / party / show off / dessert

For all you trifle purists out there, I have a couple of confessions to make. This doesn’t really contain sponge, and my custard is not really a custard. And there’s not really any whipped cream. But it is DELICIOUS, and managed to win my trifle-sceptical family around on Christmas day. I made individual trifles, but you could also make it in one big bowl. It’s nice to use glass dishes so people can fully appreciate all your hard work.

I used almond biscotti, amaretto and poire williams liqueur, because that’s what my mother had lying around. With trifle, anything goes. The important thing is to have a healthy splash of booze and something biscuity or spongy to soak it up.

* Pears - 3 large comice, not too ripe

* Caster sugar - 250g

* Cardamom - 3 pods

* Cinnamon - 1 stick

* Lemon - juice of half

* Gelatine - 4 leaves

* Almond biscotti - about 9 (you can replace these with any sort of biscuit or plain sponge. Ginger nuts work well)

* Poire williams liqueur, amaretto or whiskey - plenty of splashes

For the ginger custard:

* Egg yolks - 3

* Caster sugar - 40g

* Amaretto liqueur or whiskey - 2 tbsp

* Double cream - 150ml

* Fresh ginger - a thumb sized piece

* Chocolate - about 50g, finely grated

Start by preparing the pears. Peel, quarter and core them. Place in a pan with 500ml of water along with the sugar, cardamom, cinnamon and lemon juice. Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar. When the sugar is completely dissolved, cover the pan and leave on a low simmer for half an hour.

When the pears are cooked and tender, lift them out of the syrup with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool. Keep the syrup, covered over a very low heat.

Crumble the biscotti (or whatever biscuit you’re using) into the bottom of each trifle dish. You want about a biscotti and a half in each dish. If you’re making one large trifle, just crumble them into the bottom of the dish and spread out evenly.

Carefully pour a little poire williams liqueur (or whichever alcohol you are using) over the biscotti. You want them to be just soaked through, but not swimming in booze.

Next thinly slice the pears lengthways. Arrange the slices up the side of your dishes or dish. In a large trifle you can lay some of the slices over the crumbled biscuits too.

Briefly dunk the gelatine leaves in a bowl of cold water, then put them straight into the warm sugar syrup. Bring back up to a very gentle simmer and stir until all the gelatine has dissolved. Pour another splash of booze into the pan.

Divide the jelly liquid evenly between your dishes, or pour into your trifle bowl. Place into the fridge to set for at least four hours, or up to 48 hours.

Meanwhile make the custard. Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until thick and pale yellow. Add the amaretto and whisk to combine.

In a separate bowl, whisk the double cream until it thickens to whipped cream consistency. Be careful not to over whip - when it begins to change thickness, go little by little. You want a light, fluffy cream.

Grate the ginger into the cream and fold in to combine. Finally fold the whipped cream into the egg yolk mixture. Place in the fridge to chill.

Finally grate the dark chocolate and keep the shavings in a bowl in the fridge ready to serve.

I like to assemble my trifle at the last minute, serving the jelly and fruit at room temperature and spooning over the chilled cream and chocolate shavings when I serve. There’s something about cold creamy things with jelly. If you prefer, you can assemble the whole thing in advance and serve it at room temperature.


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