Well, friends, I’m afraid it’s that time of year where we must turn our thoughts to next month’s festive season. As menu planning seems to get earlier and earlier each year, if I am to SURPRISE and DELIGHT your festive table, I need to be even more ahead of the game, so here we are.
I like traditional Christmas Pudding. I like its dark richness, studded with jewel-like fruits, crunchy nuts and tangy peel. I like its dense nature and the accompanying wide choice of accessories with which you can adorn your plate: pouring cream, whipped cream, clotted cream, custard, white sauce, brandy butter, rum butter…
What I’m not so keen on is facing it after a comprehensive but daunting Christmas Day lunch with all the trimmings, after a morning that has invariably involved snacks both sweet and savoury. By the time pudding is served, no-one usually has the energy or the inclination to do it justice.
So what I have for you here is an alternative. Something that satisfies the craving for the traditional flavours, without the, lets not deny it, heaviness of a traditional pudding. Just look at it! ”Bejewelled” is not an exaggeration, especially when served on a sparkling glass dish. As a bonus, it doesn’t involve any heavy mixing and steaming and re-steaming.
A riotous mix of dried fruits, nuts and peel is macerated in alcohol (not compulsory, fruit juice is absolutely fine), then set in a tangy, lemon jelly in little moulds. The flavours stay bright and fresh, the portions are small, and tradition can still be observed. The jelly acts as a palate cleanser, really waking up the tastebuds in preparation for the ensuing onslaught of nuts, chocolates and drinks as the rest of the day trundles on. It’s gluten-free and can also be vegetarian/vegan with the use of appropriate setting agents for the lemon jelly.
I used a silicone mould like this. It’s known as a half-sphere or hemisphere mould. Each shape is of diameter 55mm. It is the perfect size for individual desserts and one of my most used silicon moulds.
Mini Christmas Puddings
These quantities make eight mini puddings. You may have a little lemon jelly left over, but just set it by itself for a delicious, refreshing mouthful.
40g prunes, diced fine
40g candied peel, diced fine
40g glace cherries, each cut into 8 pieces
20g preserved ginger, chopped
20g flaked or slivered almonds
80ml cream sherry or apple juice
2 sheets gelatine (or vegan/vegetarian alternative)
2tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
2tbs caster sugar
- Mix the fruit and nuts and pour over the sherry/juice. Leave to soak for 2 hours. If, at the end of this time, the fruit hasn’t absorb all of the liquid, try zapping it briefly in the microwave to warm it through.
- Put the mould onto a baking sheet or tin to give it stability. Spoon the mixture into your individual moulds and smooth over.
- Soak the gelatine sheets in cold water for 10 minutes.
- Heat the 150ml of water in the microwave or in a pan, and add the sugar and lemon juice. Stir until dissolved. Adjust the taste with more of either or both as liked.
- Squeeze the gelatine sheets free of excess water and add to the lemon syrup. Stir until dissolved.
- Pour the lemon jelly into each mould, allowing the jelly to seep between the fruit and fill all the little gaps. Tap the baking tray lightly onto the work surface to get rid of any air bubbles and add more jelly as required.
- Lay a piece of cling film lightly over the surface on the mould, to prevent evaporation, and chill in the fridge for 4-6 hours until firm.
- To serve, loosen the jellies by standing the mould in hot water for 10-15 seconds before turning them out.
- Serve with cream and/or brandy butter.
I’m still ovenless, so improvisation is still the name of the game here, with this gloriously crunchy and chewy granola you can make in the microwave!
I’ve used gluten-free oats and coconut oil to make it both gluten and dairy free, but you could easily substitute ordinary oats and butter.
You can customise the recipe by adding in your own choice of dried fruit after the granola has cooled. I recommend going for tart/sharp fruits to contrast with the sweet and crunchy oats and nuts.
You can also easily customise this recipe if you’re thinking of making edible gifts this Christmas. In addition to varying the fruit and nuts, you could also sprinkle some spice over the finished mixture such as cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, mixed spice, etc.
250g gluten-free oats
60g coconut ribbons
120g pumpkin seeds
120g sunflower seeds
120g pecans – chopped
250g runny honey
110g coconut oil
110g dark Muscovado sugar
To add after cooling
chopped, dried apricot
- Tip the oats into a large, dry pan and stir over medium heat for 5-10 minutes until lightly toasted.
- Transfer the oats to a large bowl and add the coconut, seeds, nuts and salt. Stir thoroughly.
- Put the sugar, coconut oil and honey into a pan and heat gently until the coconut oil has melted.
- Pour the warm mixture over the oat mixture and stir well to coat.
- Pour half the oat mixture onto a piece of baking parchment and microwave on High for 2 minutes.
- Stir the mix, then microwave on High for a further 2 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool.
- Repeat with the other half of the mixture.
- When the mixture has cooled completely, transfer the granola to a large bowl and break up into clumps.
- Add in dried fruit to taste and mix thoroughly.
- Store in a sealed container. If the mixture is sticky, store in the fridge.
A little bit of luxury for you this week. I’m still sticking with the French theme, but it’s a little less obvious than in previous weeks. This week’s recipe is inspired by a newly acquired book which demonstrates that food allergies or intolerances need not signal a lifetime of dull or dismal food.
This is the latest pubication by Philippe Conticini, creating mouthwatering desserts and treats that are both gluten free and dairy free. Although I purchased my copy from the French Amazon site a few months ago, it is now available with just UK shipping charges here, or order through your local bookshop. Alas, it is only available in the original French, but anyone with O-level/GCSE French and a working knowledge of baking will manage easily.
Sidebar: for the digitally inclined, there is a free Translate app that will allow you to photograph text with your phone, which it will then scan and translate on the go. Also, Chef Conticini has many of his recipes freely available on his website here, as well as numerous demonstration videos on his Facebook page here.
The first recipe in the book is for a kind of chocolate nut sponge, and it is filled with a ganache and glazed with a slightly thinned version of the ganache. It is delicious! It is also very hard to believe it is both gluten and lactose free.
I was so impressed with the ganache, I thought it deserved a starring role, so here it is in a very elegant and sophisticated tart. Gluten and dairy free chocolate is available in supermarkets – I found both milk and dark chocolate in Morrisons.
This tart is made up of bits and pieces from different recipes, tweaked to fit in with my overall idea: I like to think of it as the Lego™ approach. The praline paste is Philippe Conticinis, as well as the ganache – I’ve not messed with either. I’ve tweaked the sweet pastry recipe by adding cocoa (reducing one of the flours) to make it chocolate.
I’ve used a long, rectangular tart tin, but any shape will do. Since everything tastes so rich, the tart doesn’t have to be very deep and you could probably stretch the pastry to a 24cm flan tin. Otherwise, use a 20cm flan tin and, exercising your will of iron, cut the slices very thin.
Chocolate Praline Tart
For the praline
NB Because it is a bit of a Faff™, this deliberately makes a LOT of praline. However, it will keep for months in the fridge if necessary. If you really don’t think you’ll use it – I mean, it’s not like it tastes AWESOME or anything – consider making a half batch.
300g of whole raw hazelnuts (with skin)
300g of whole raw almonds (with skin)
400g caster sugar
- Put the sugar and the water in a pan over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved.
- Bring the syrup to a boil and when the temperature reaches 118°C, add the hazelnuts and almonds.
- Stir the nuts in the sugar, making sure that they are thoroughly coated. This movement will also cause the sugar to crystallise. This is fine. Continue stirring to keep the nuts from burning.
- Eventually, the sugar will melt again and turn a deep and warm caramel colour.
- At this point, pour the whole mixture onto baking parchment. Before it cools, pull the nuts apart using a couple of forks, so that they don’t set in a solid lump. This will make processing them easier.
- When the caramelised nuts are cold, break them up either by hand or by battering them with a rolling pin and transfer to a food processor fitted with the cutting blade.
- If you want to use some of the nuts as decoration, as in the photo, set some aside before the mixture becomes paste.
- Process the nuts into a smooth paste using a series of short bursts with the blade. If you keep the blade moving for too long, it will heat up the paste, so short stints are best. For a long time it will seem like you’re just making a racket with the machine, but it will eventually break down into smaller pieces.
- When the mixture is smooth, transfer to an airtight box and store in the fridge.
For the pastry
This recipe uses clarified butter. Before everyone starts shrieking dairy, let me remind you that clarified butter is pure fat, WITHOUT any of the dairy solids. If you’re not convinced, as an alternative you can use Indian ghee or coconut butter.
50g clarified butter
30g icing sugar
30g ground almonds
25g chestnut flour
25g Green & Black’s cocoa powder
50g rice flour
pinch of sea salt
1 large yolk
½ large egg – whisked
- Use a little clarified butter to grease your tin and shake over some cornflour (to help keep the pastry from sticking).
- Put the butter and the dry ingredients into a food processor and blitz until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
- Whisk the yolk into the beaten egg and add gradually to the dry ingredients until the mixture comes together. It might not come together in the bowl, only resemble damp crumbs, but it will hold once tipped out and pressed firmly.
- Roll out thinly and use to line your prepared tin. Alternatively, just use the damp crumbs into your tin and press into the sides and base until covered. I opted to roll the pastry and got it impressively thin, but then I found I couldn’t move it across into the tin in one piece, so I just patchworked it together.
- Preheat the oven to 160°C, 140°C Fan.
- Line your pastry with baking parchment and add cooking beads/rice.
- Bake until the pastry is fully cooked (20-30 minutes).
- Set aside to cool. NB Your pastry might crack as it cools. Fear not. Just melt some GF DF chocolate and literally paint over the cracks. And everywhere else if you like. Put the tart shell in the fridge to set. The layer of chocolate will help keep the pastry crisp underneath the rich filling.
For the ganache
170g GF DF dark chocolate
55g GF DF milk chocolate
150ml Soya milk
- Break the chocolate into pieces and melt in a bowl over warm water.
- Heat the milk and slowly add to the melted chocolate, stirring constantly until fully combined.
- Set aside until required.
- Add a layer of praline to the cooled tart shell. How much is entirely up to you. I am a big fan of its rich taste, but then again, a little does go a long way. I spread a 5mm layer which is enough to give the flavour, but doesn’t overpower. If the praline is cold and too stiff to spread, zap it for a few seconds in the microwave to soften.
- Pour the warm ganache over the praline paste and smooth. You can also tap the tin lightly on the work surface to get the ganache to level out.
- Put into the fridge to set. Once set, sprinkle over the finely chopped praline if using.
- If not eating immediately, cover lightly with cling film – try and keep it from touching the ganache – and store in the fridge.
- Allow the tart to come to room temperature before serving.