dessert


I remember the first time I made chocolate self-saucing pudding was as a child of around 11 or 12.  Even from the perspective of a kid who had never made much pudding before, that this recipe would turn into a pudding with sauce seemed just highly improbable.  I’d be grateful for any information out there about how – scientifically, I guess – this recipe works: from some pantry and fridge basics you make a melt-and-mix cake batter, then sprinkle over some sugar and cocoa, and then pour over some boiling water.  It is the last part that seems weird.  But this recipe is dead easy and yet wonderfully comforting and satisfying.  We thought that we grown-ups needed a bit of extra indulgence this time around so added some Pedro Ximinez-soaked prunes as well – we can definitely recommend it.  We ate it as is on the first night, with leftovers enjoyed throughout the week warmed with an extra splash of pedro on top and a blob of custard.

NCRmay09And if you may be starting to think that our house seems to have been a house of desserts of late, you are right.  On that note I would like to say my warm thanks for supporting my entry (a warming dish of winter berries) to May’s No Crouton’s Required event.  I’m chuffed to now sport the winner’s badge for the month!  It’s lovely to receive this encouragement from readers, and I’m particularly grateful to the event organisers Lisa and Jacqueline, who apart from organising the event also maintain inspiring food blogs themselves.

I promise that we have been eating our greens at dinner, but today we’re still talking about icky and sticky desserts, so here’s the pudding recipe.  Enjoy!

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Chocolate self-saucing pudding with drunken prunes
Adapted from Stephanie Alexander

125g plain flour
pinch of salt
1/4 castor sugar
2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 cup milk
40g unsalted butter, melted
1 egg
dash vanilla essence
1/3 cup prunes, sliced roughly
3 tbsp Pedro Ximinez sherry (or brandy or cognac or whatever you have handy)

For the topping
180g brown sugar
2tbsp cocoa powder
1 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 180C.

Soak the prunes in the sherry and set aside.

Mix the flour, salt, sugar, baking powder and cocoa in a large bowl.  In a jug mix the melted butter, milk, egg and vanilla.  Tip the wet into the dry and mix thoroughly.  Stir through the prune mixture with the juices.  Tip into a 1.4L baking dish.

For the topping, mix together the brown sugar and the cocoa in a small bowl.  Scatter over the pudding batter.  Then carefully pour over the boiling water.

Bake for 40-45 minutes.  Serve hot with custard and extra sherry.

Yield: 6-8 servings.

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A craving for dessert that came too late for a mercy dash to the shop instead led us to this hastily-put-together invention.  It’s not really a recipe: just take some odd bits of shortcrust pastry, one ripe pear, and some ends of glace ginger, and voila: dessert.    The pear and ginger filling was a nice riff on the familiar apple turnover idea, suitably spicy and warming for our present chilly season.  And if you’ll believe me,  the heart-shapes you see below were almost purely fortuitous.  My pastry odd-bits were vaguely triangular to start with, and got me wondering whether my heart-shaped mould would fit over the filling, which they miraculously did.  See where your odds and ends take you, seemed to be the message of the night.  Indeed!

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Pear and Ginger Hearts

Shortcrust pastry (enough for 2 parcels of whatever shape you desire)
1 large ripe pear, peeled and diced
4-5 ends glace ginger, finely chopped (about 1 heaped tbsp in all)
1 tsp raw caster sugar and a big pinch of cinnamon, for sprinkling on top
1 egg, lightly beaten

Preheat pastry to 200C.

Divide your pastry into 4 pieces.  You will need 2 smaller ones for bases, and 2 larger ones for the tops.

In a small bowl, stir together the pear pieces and ginger.  Divide the pear mix onto your 2 bases, leaving a 1cm edge.  Brush the edge with the egg mixture.  Place your pastry tops over the pear, and push down to seal.  Cut out the pastry parcels into hearts or whatever shapes fit best.  Brush the tops really well with the egg mixture, and sprinkle over the sugar and cinnamon mixture.

Bake for 12 minutes, then turn down the heat to 180C and bake for a further 15 minutes or until the tops are golden.

Yield: 2 hearts.

Even after wondering whether I might have picked up some colour on my nose from the glorious sunshine we’re getting here, the nights and mornings tell me that winter’s well on the way.  So somehow it seems perfectly sensible to return to an old favourite from the northern hemisphere – rote grütze – a cherry and berry wonder from Germany.

Literally translating as ‘red groats’, it seems that traditionally this recipe was made with a combination of red fruit juices and grains.  The modern version I’m tapping into here is still based on red fruit juice (here I’ve used grape juice), but also uses whole red fruits.  It’s not super sweet, and enriched with a dash of red wine,  it’s a dessert that recalls the best of a steaming mug of glühwein, hearty and cosy-making from the insides.  It’s a fantastic served warm with vanilla custard.  It also keeps well in the fridge and Germans have been known to have it cold on their cereal of a morning.  Give it a go – but let me warn you that the grütze of course loses its soupy-stewy consistency to become more jelly-like in the cold, so don’t be disturbed at the transformation!

And while it does not sit perfectly within a particular genre, having some characteristics of a compote, a stew (like stewed apple or rhubarb), a jelly, a pudding – I’m crossing my fingers that this rote grütze is soup-like enough to qualify for this month’s No Croutons Required event, in which Lisa is calling for soups or salads with berries.

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Rote grütze (red groats)

415g tin cherries, drained and juice reserved
about 450ml dark red grape juice (unsweetened)
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/3 cup cornflour
1/2 red wine
2-3 cups mixed red berries (frozen is fine)

Put the reserved cherry juice in a measuring jug and make up to 600ml with the red grape juice.  Tip into a medium saucepan, and then add 1 more cup grape juice.  Add in the sugar, lemon zest and juice.  Bring to the boil.

In a separate glass, stir together the cornflour and the red wine.  When the juice mixture is just boiling, pour the cornflour mixture into the saucepan.  Return to the boil, stirring continuously as the sauce thickens, and simmer for 3 minutes.

Stir in the drained cherries and the berries and gently return to the boil.  Take off the heat and allow to cool slightly before serving.

Yield: about 1.5L, which would be a good 6-8 servings.  Keep in the fridge and microwave or heat gently on the stove to serve.

Enticed by its big welcoming sign (“Apples! Quinces! Pears!”, or something like that), we decided to check out a local apple orchard and immediately found ourselves pacing down a row of fruit-heavy apple trees leading in from the road.  Even on that gusty grey day, we could smell the apple in the air, and were very excited to bring home a big bag of granny smiths and quinces for a little bit of orchard-goodness at home.  This weekend we had an apple-baking bonanza, and I want to recommend two excellent recipes if you might be in a similar apple-baking mood.

img_3920_1First, there was  Molly’s apple tart-cake. The golden glow you see in this photo is from the glorious morning sun that decided to come out yesterday just at apple cake photo time.

This cake is something that you can pull together from everyday ingredients, and, with the help of a food processor, is straightforward to make.  The amazing thing is the tart-cake base, which starts out being crumbly and mealy: but somehow, during cooking this base mixture both sets at the bottom and bubbles up to fill the nooks and crannies of the apple slices up above.  Who knows how a base mixture can know to do both things?  And in terms of technique, no special cake making skills are here required.  Once  you press the tart-cake crumbs into your tin, then just you need to really pack in the apple slices on top (as prettily as you please), and then do the topping stage.  I pretty much decided to follow Molly’s recipe so won’t repeat it here.  (Though next time I make this one, I will take up some of the suggestions in the comments to reduce the sugar in the base from 1 cup to 3/4 cup.)

img_3925_1Second, my husband requested apple pie.  Cindy led me to a recipe for old-fashioned apple pie by Martha Stewart, which uses a fabulous pate brisee recipe for the pastry that I had tried with great success in the past (eg for beetroot and feta tart).  This recipe is the real deal, and has a very simple idea for the filling (just sliced apples tossed in lemon juice, sugar and spices with some flour and butter).  I have never made apple pie from scratch before so followed the recipe closely, but I would like a bit more of the spice flavour next time.  But I admit I was a little daunted by the prospect of making a pie that uses 1.8kg of apples, so decided to make a half quantity.  Here’s the resulting golden pie, in the rather less golden glow of the afternoon sun by our window.  While the pie here looks like it is bathed in mysterious cool blue light, the photo is taken in the same spot as the apple tart-cake was the previous morning.  I promise you that the pie was as appropriately bronzed and burnished as a sugar-crusted apple pie should be!

(And because even with half the amount of apples I could not fit them in, this is the little ramekin-pie I made with the leftover filling and pastry scraps.)

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For his birthday dinner this week, my cream-and-dairy-loving husband requested creamy spinach pasta.  I was happy to oblige with this old favourite, and when trying to think about what might go best for a simple but celebratory dessert, a chocolate fudge sauce I’d seen in Nigella Express came to mind as an ideal vehicle for the remaining double cream.

Now, this isn’t a meal for everyday, and isn’t a meal for when you’re counting calories.  But, in its defence, the pasta sauce does use a vast amount of English spinach leaves (2 bunches!), and does feed 4 ravenous people.  It really is a very simple idea, and the spinach puree-sauce provides a wonderfully tasty coating for the pasta.  If you’re pressed for time, I would say that semi-dried tomatoes could substitute really well for these oven roasted ones.

There’s really no way to think of any healthful defence of this chocolate fudge sauce (which I think is like a sublime version of the trashy thrill of Reece’s peanut butter cups), unless you count the fact that it is so rich and delicious you won’t need more than a couple of spoonfuls of it over your favourite icecream.  (I don’t know what Nigella was thinking in saying that this recipe serves 4:  I would say this quantity of fudge would top 10-12 regular-sized sundaes generously.)

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Creamy Spinach Pasta
Adapted from Vegie Food

Note:  the original recipe calls for fresh spinach fettucine.  I couldn’t find that this time, and instead used this pretty (dried) egg fettucine with a single ruffled edge.  Up to you.

6 roma tomatoes, cut into wedges
40g butter
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 onion, chopped
500g English spinach leaves (about 2 bunches worth)
250mL vegetable stock
1/2 cup double cream
400g pasta (see note above)
shaved parmesan, to top

Roast the tomato wedges tossed in a bit of olive oil at 220C for about 30 minutes, until softened.

Put the pasta on to cook.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large pan, and good the garlic and onion over medium heat until the onion is soft.  Then add the spinach, stock and cream, and push down the spinach to wilt.  Bring to a boil and simmer rapidly for 5 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly, then puree with a hand blender or in a food processor.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside until the pasta and tomatoes are ready.

When everything is cooked, tip the creamy spinach sauce into the drained pasta and toss well to coat the pasta.  Serve into bowls, and top with the roasted tomato and parmesan shavings.

Yield: 4 generous servings.

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Chocolate peanut butter fudge sauce
Minor adaptations from Nigella Express

175mL double cream
100g milk chocolate, chopped
100g smooth peanut butter, chopped
2 tbsp golden syrup

Place all the ingredients into a saucepan and stir over low heat to melt and to combine all the ingredients.  In 2-3 minutes the sauce will be ready.

We had this with vanilla and caramel icecream, with some chopped salted peanuts on top.  Delicious.  Go crazy with it and let me know what you suggest.

Yield: enough for 10-12 sundaes.  Keeps in a jar in the fridge, and reheats just fine with a gentle burst in the microwave.

There’s a vague memory somewhere of a high school science class in which we wore pinafores and made honeycomb over bunsen burners and gauze mats, and let the golden mass harden in misshapen trays on the benchtops.  It must have been quite a sight to see!  A quick search on the web tells me that in terms of the science, the magic of honeycomb is that once you add bicarbonate of soda to the hot toffee mixture, the bicarb breaks down to release carbon dioxide gas into the toffee, causing it to foam up.  How ’bout that.  Well, in terms of its culinary worth, I’d have to rate honeycomb right up there as one of my favourite sweets, for its dense syrupy sweetness and its hard yet airy, crumbly-chewy texture.  Delicious.

I’m aware that making sweets in January is probably not strictly necessary, given the excesses of December and all.  So here’s a recipe for the honeycomb in the context of an otherwise extremely healthful yoghurt-based dessert idea.  We’ve already given some away to friends to help us eat through the batch, but I’m quietly hoping that our stash of little golden chunks and the dust will last us just a bit longer.

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Passionfruit and honeycomb yoghurt with fresh fruit
Inspired by Nigella’s Hokey Pokey

For a single serve of the yoghurt
1/2 cup Greek yoghurt
Pulp of half a passionfruit, a bit reserved for the top
Fresh fruit (I used nectarines)

For the honeycomb
100g sugar
3 tbsp golden syrup
1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

To make the honeycomb, first line a tray with baking paper or foil.

In a large, heavy saucepan, heat the sugar and golden syrup until all the sugar has melted (takes about 3-5 minutes).  Stir as little as you can.

When the toffee is the colour of maple syrup and bubbling well, take off the heat and whisk in the bicarbonate of soda.  Immediately tip onto your prepared tray.  Leave until completely cool and set, and break into many pieces with a rolling pin (or I used a tin of baked beans!).

To assemble the dessert:  Stir together the yoghurt, 1/2 passionfruit and 1 tbsp of honeycomb crumbs until mixed.  Dollop over your fresh fruit of choice, and scatter over a bit more passionfruit and honeycomb.  Yum!

While I love cake, and enjoy cooking, I wouldn’t say that I have any particular skills in cake-making.  So when I tried to think about what kind of cake to make for the first birthday picnic-party for our playgroup bubs (hooray!), I felt a bit at sea.  Worried about the risks of a saggy centre and undercooked batter in attempting a large cake for 20-odd parents (and their curious babes), I decided to try my hand at vanilla cupcakes.  And what fun this undertaking turned out to be!

There is an amazing amount of specialised experience about the cupcake that’s being recorded in the blogging world (here’s an example, and here’s another).  While there are so many enticing and imaginative cupcake creations out there, I was looking for something that a cupcake-novice could tackle, that had kid-friendly flavours, and that would be hardy enough to take to a picnic.  In the end, I settled for a Nigella Lawson recipe (from my recently acquired Feast), quite simply because it didn’t begin with the dreaded instruction to ” beat butter and sugar together until pale and creamy”.  I have little enough patience to soften the butter to room temperature, let alone to cream the butter till it has lost all its yellowness and the sugar has dissolved.  These here are food processor cupcakes, a breeze to make, and delicious. ( If you don’t have a food processor, I’m sure you could use the conventional method too, using an electric mixer.)

There was also the contentious issue of icing (the presence of which is undisputably essential atop a cupcake, in my humble view).  But should it be buttercream? Royal icing? Ready-made, ready-to-roll? Fondant? I even flirted with the idea of trying to recreate the gorgeously decadent frosting from the Magnolia cupcakes, but then just couldn’t bring myself to do it when I saw just how much icing sugar was involved.   I’ll just have to treat myself to one next time I’m on Bleecker St.  Instead I opted for a cream cheese frosting style – which uses 1 part butter to 2 parts cream cheese – and considerably less sugar.  Along with these (marginal) health advantages, my mother-in-law also pointed out that this type of frosting is likely to be more stable and transportable than a pure buttercream frosting, as butter can spoil much more easily in the heat, while cream cheese frosting can hold its shape and texture a bit better.  Perfect for a picnic!

Curious?  I recommend these cupcakes heartily.  Enjoyed by big and little people, and fun to make.  A brief word on quantities: I was aiming for at least 30 cupcakes, so I tripled the cupcake recipe to make 3 dozen.  Amazingly, a single quantity of the frosting was plenty to frost this number of cupcakes.  So for simplicity, the recipes below are in their original scale, despite a mismatch in yield.  Scale up or down as you need.  Here are the recipes without further ado.

Nigella’s Food Processor Cupcakes
aka ‘love buns’, from Feast

This recipe makes 12 cupcakes.  Leave out the butter and eggs for a decent stint beforehand, to get to room temperature.  You want to be able to poke your finger in the butter with ease.

125g unsalted butter
125g caster sugar
2 eggs
125g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp milk

Preheat the oven to 200C, and line a 12-hole muffin tin with patty cases.

Put all the ingredients except the milk into the food processor, and blend till smooth.  Add in the milk and pulse, to make a batter with a smooth dropping consistency.

Divide the mixture between the cases, and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the tops are lightly golden and a little risen.  Let them cool in the tin for a few minutes, then cool completely on a wire rack before icing.

Top with cream cheese icing and decorations* of choice.

Cream Cheese Icing (Vanilla and Chocolate)

This recipe ices 36 cupcakes.  See the cupcake recipe headnote about softening the butter: the same applies here to the butter and cream cheese.

125g unsalted butter
250g cream cheese (I used a low-fat version)
1 tsp vanilla
4 cups icing sugar, well sifted

Beat the butter, cream cheese and vanilla with an electric mixer for 3 minutes.  Gradually add icing sugar and beat until incorporated.

If you want to make half the icing chocolate-flavoured, divide the icing into 2 bowls, and into one of them add 1/2 a cup of well sifted cocoa powder, beating well again.

Refridgerate the icing for at least an hour before using.

* A special thanks to my mother-in-law is due here, as she gave me lots of ideas for cupcake decoration during her recent visit.  And it probably should also be said that these cupcakes simply would not have happened without her so ably looking after my bub during the baking.   Thank you!

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