Category Archives: Celebration

Un tiramisu che ti tirasu

A few years ago, when we fancied making a tiramisu (it means pick me up, or pull me up), I looked at loads of recipes. I was quite shocked (I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to Italian cooking) at the variations. I mean, Nigella, whom I love, had one, in How To Eat, using no coffee or chocolate and meringues instead of sponge fingers. It caused me to  to slam the pages of the book shut in mock horror.

It is the coffee, and the chocolate that is supposed to act as a ‘tiramisu’. Anything else, to my mind, ti spinge giu (pushes you down).

I have hundreds of cookery books, and a world of recipes at my fingers tips, as do you, on the internet. But nothing was really saying Italian tiramisu to me. Then I thought of looking in my Italian cooking bible: The Silver Spoon.

In these days of celebrity cookbooks, stuffed full of photographs, the recipes in this book are easy to overlook: simple, very few pictures and the list of ingredients for each recipe is short. But don’t overlook them because not only is this a fantastic cookery book, the recipes are accomplished – some of them go back fifty years. As you may expect, some of the recipes are as good as they’re ever going to get.

And the tiramisu recipe is no exception. It is one of the few with a photo which I admit helped…I made it and it is the only way we make tiramisu now. It’s simple, anyone can do it (my bambine frequently do) and once made sits in the fridge for a good few days, yielding to your spoon just when you need a…pick me up.

It has no alcohol – so if you feel the need for some after dinner, serve that separately – which means children can easily eat this. Although beware of eating it too late as there’s quite a caffeine punch.

My friend Tamsin doesn’t like coffee, so she doesn’t include it in her tiramisu. Of course I have told her it’s not really a tiramisu, but more of a creamy pudding. Don’t even think of using cocoa powder (other than, maybe, on the very top but I don’t) instead of grated chocolate. The chocolate shavings make this stand out and allow for some bite in what is a wallowy pudding which offers little resistance: you could easily eat aged 98, when all your teeth have fallen out.

And use icing sugar, not caster, which can result in a runny mess.

Here it is:

2 egg whites, 4 egg yolks (freeze the 2 extra egg whites)

150 icing sugar

400g mascarpone

200g sponge fingers

175ml espresso coffee

200g plain chocolate, grated

NOTE: grating chocolate is one of my least favourite jobs but I do it for this. 200g is what the original recipe asks for, but I’ve made this dozens of times now and I never use this much anymore and in fact I use less than half of it and it’s plenty. My advice is go for 100g of it, because also, grating 200g of chocolate is a total yawn.

What to do:

I make this in a rectangular Pyrex, which also has a handy lid so I can save it for a few days. Mine is about 17cm x 25cm and it makes two layers. But of course you can make it in a different shape so you get more layers, or even make it circular or in individual portions, just break the sponge fingers up to fill the spaces.

It would, I think, easily serve eight people depending on the size of portion.

First you whisk the egg whites until stiff, set them aside for a moment whilst, in a separate bowl you beat the egg yolks with the icing sugar, then you fold/whisk the mascarpone into the egg yolks and sugar and finally, into this you gently fold in the egg whites. This is your creamy bit.

Lay the sponge fingers onto the base of your dish and brush or pour the coffee on top. Because I know mine makes two layers, I pour half the coffee on now. Then spoon on a layer of the cream and sprinkle with the grated chocolate. Repeat this, ending with a layer of mascarpone/sprinkling of chocolate. I usually end up with more chocolate than I need for this, for some reason, so if so just keep it in a jam jar for next time.

It is better the next day, but can be eaten within a few hours of making it and chilling it to allow the ingredients to meet each other, and mingle.

 

 

 

 

La crostata rustica (plum galette)

La crostata (it means ‘crusted’) is oft made in my family in Italy.

It’s usually a thing of some precision, the pastry laid out, put in a tart or pie tin, filled with fruit or, sometimes, jam, and then criss crossed with thin, fluted strips of pastry.

This crostata is different in that it makes a virtue of its pulled together-ness and the pastry is, anyway, too fragile to handle much (this is because of the lard, which also gives it its deliciousness..). It has become my new favourite tart.

You can use any suitable soft fruit for this – peaches, berries, plums. I used plums as that’s what the original recipe called for. It’s really easy but, as I’ve said, beware because the pastry is very tricky to handle but that’s okay cos it’s all about a rustic look!

This is adapted from a Donna Hay recipe.

The pastry

225g plain flour

55g caster sugar

the rind from half a lemon

60g butter, fridge cold and chopped

40g lard, fridge cold and chopped

2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar

60ml ice cold water – but you may not use all of it

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

The filling

500g of suitable tart fruit, sliced if necessary.

75g caster sugar

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

10g cold, chopped butter

1 beaten egg

some demerara sugar

(some juniper berries if you like and you remember)

40g ground almond

Method

Put the flour, sugar and lemon rind in a bowl and mix together lightly – you can do this by hand or in a food processor (I used the latter, work lightly). Add the butter and lard and mix to resemble the famous ‘fine breadcrumbs’. Now add the vinegar and vanilla and just enough water to bring it all together. If using a food processor, pulse and stop before the pastry has come together but looks clumpy. Bundle together and put in the fridge to rest for fifteen minutes or more (until you are ready to work with it, you can do it overnight).

When ready, roll out onto baking parchment, either into a round shape or, as I do, an oblong. I must confess to half rolling, half pressing the pastry to shape with ice-cold fingers (cold hands, cold heart). You want to get it to about 3-4mm thickness. When you’ve rolled it out so it’s at it’s final dimensions, put it back in the fridge for ten minutes.

Preheat oven to 200C.

In the meantime mix together the (sliced) fruit, sugar and vanilla.

(Note: you can make the fruit bit in advance and keep it in the fridge, but bear in mind the sugar will leach water from the fruit and you don’t want to put this (the juice) onto the pastry, so if you do make it in advance, just pour off any excess juice and serve separately over the tart, there isn’t much.)

Slide the baking parchment onto a baking tray, so the pastry base sits on the tray it will cook on.

Spread the ground almonds on the base – leaving a rim of about an inch. Now plop the fruit on top, spread it out as far as you’ve put the ground almonds, dot the butter on and fold the sides over. I find the pastry really hard to handle at this stage: do your best. Don’t worry if it looks very home made, it all adds to the charm. Brush the pastry edge with the beaten egg and sprinkle with the sugar.

Place in the oven for 15 mins, then reduce temperature down to 175C for 30-40 mins until the pastry is nice and golden and the fruit is bubbling. (Check after 30, I have two ovens and both vary hugely, one was perfect after 40 mins one was more than done after 30.) Let cool for ten minutes. I served it with this ice cream and let me tell you, it was a magical moment.

 

 

Halloween spider’s web cake

We do Halloween in our own way in this house, which is not very much. We don’t do trick or treating because that kinda contradicts everything we say the rest of the year (“knock on strangers’ doors! Eat lots of sweets! Ghosts and ghouls do exist!”).

But we aren’t total killjoys, either. We do stuff and have our own traditions and one of them is that I make this cake.

It’s basically a red velvet chocolate cake – or that’s how it started – but I don’t add red colouring so mine isn’t red, it’s just a light chocolate cake with cream cheese/sugar/butter filling and covered with a chocolate ganache, then iced with white chocolate. It’s actually fairly easy and really tasty and if you have one, a plastic spider on top looks good.

This recipe is adapted from a recipe in Waitrose magazine. The changes I’ve made are: no salted butter, no red food colouring, more cocoa, I used kefir instead of buttermilk (don’t worry if this means nothing to you!) and I cut the sugar down. But you can’t tell. It’s still very much a proper cake.

The cake

200g butter at room temperature

350g plain flour

1 tsp of baking powder

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

4 tablespoons of good cocoa powder

quarter of a teaspoon of sea salt

300g caster sugar

3 eggs

1.5 tsp vanilla extract

284ml buttermilk/kefir

Cream cheese filling

120g butter

120g cream cheese

100g icing sugar

Chocolate icing

300ml double cream

250g 70% cocoa chocolate, chopped

1.5 tablespoons of liquid glucose (you can buy it in tubes in the baking aisle)

50g white chocolate (I use Green and Black’s – absolutely the best white chocolate there is that doesn’t cost loads)

You’ll also need an icing bag and fine nozzle

What to do

Oven to 170C.  Line a 23cm spring-form cake tin with parchment or treat yourself and buy some cake tin liners. Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl, but not the sugar. Put the sugar and butter in a separate bowl and either beat by hand or put in a food mixer with whisk attachment and beat until smooth. Now add the eggs (continue with the food processor if you have started with it, but by hand is also, of course, fine) one at a time, beating well with each addition.

Now add the dry ingredients, alternating with the buttermilk/kefir until all combined. That’s it, your cake is done. Scrape into a tin then bake for about an hour.

It needs to cool completely. When it is cool, slice it into three. You’ll probably have two flat layers – the bits of the cake that were the middle and the bottom – and a slightly domed layer – the natural top of the cake. You can, if you want, straighten the slightly domed layer out by cutting it, or you can just use it as the middle layer of your cake. Either way, you want a very flat layer for the top, please.

Place what will be the bottom layer on a cooling rack on top of a baking tray (this is important for later) and spread half the filling on, place other layer on top and finish with a flat layer. Put it in the fridge for about 30 mins (longer if you want).

When you are ready to do the topping: place the double cream, dark chocolate and liquid glucose in a bowl atop some simmering water until all smooth and melted. At roughly the same time, melt the white chocolate in the same way and prepare to put into an icing bag with a thin nozzle icing head-piping-thing.

Now, spread the chocolate layer over the top with a spatula knife – this is where the baking tray comes in useful. It takes some practise but you will get some chocolate on the sides as you really need to cover the whole thing. Flatten the top. Now you pipe a spiral of white chocolate around the cake – start a bit off centre. When you’ve covered the whole cake, take a cocktail stick or skewer and make lines from the centre out, to make that ripple effect. Put back in fridge to chill and take out and serve at room temperature.

It’s good. Happy Halloween!

White chocolate and berry cheesecake

I’m mindful, at this time of year, of having lots of people to cater for at once, and also the value of being able to Do Things In Advance.

I made this at the weekend, for a lunch party at a friend’s house where I was asked to bring pudding. The value of this is that it feeds lots – easily 12*. It not only can, but has to be made in advance. It looks good, but can also be brought out after a meal, to sit on the table for many hours without spoiling and be picked at (‘I’ll just tidy it up’) as guests get drunker and drunker.

I didn’t have a tin big enough, so I made this in one large rectangular Mermaid tin and a smaller tart tin. But this cheesecake is so good that I think it’s worth buying the right size tin for it as I will be making it again.

A few notes:

I put in 300g of frozen mixed berries as that’s the packet I had, and didn’t see the point of keeping back a handful of berries.

Yes you do put the berries in frozen.

Do build the crust up to a good height at the sides, although this mixture didn’t (for me) rise up, there is a lot of it and if your sides aren’t high enough, you’ll be at a dam-bust situation.

It may be an idea to put the tin on a baking sheet to catch any drips – I didn’t have any but see my point just above.

It definitely took an hour in my oven, maybe a few minutes more.

That’s it. This is a good one to keep up your sleeve for party season and the other great thing about it is that * you can cut the slices as thin or thick as you want, so it could feasibly feed may, many more than the predicted dozen.

Here is the recipe.

The Suffolk Flower Farm

Yesterday I went to the Lavenham Farmer’s Market and had a completely wonderful time, as usual. I swear they must pipe oxytocin through the hall there.

As I walked in, I saw a woman walk out with a small posy of really lovely flowers. And I clocked them and thought “wow”. And as soon as I walked in I saw this amazing stand of flowers saying “grown not flown” with the most beautiful garden flowers in bunches, in pots. And, after I’d stared at them all for a while,  I bought a small posy of flowers for £5 (see pic above).

They are lovely and if you live in Newmarket, Sudbury, Cambridge, Bury St Edmunds or Haverhill you can have lovely locally-grown flowers delivered. The company – the Suffolk Flower Farm – also does special occasions and farmer’s markets where you can pick up smaller bunches.

A last minute Christmas present idea: Kumquat chocolate slab

 

This is a really easy, delicious thing to make. Yes you do need a) chocolate and b) kumquats in the house to make this exact one, but the idea is that with a bit of imagination, you have a really easy, original gift to make for someone at the last minute. Perhaps you’ve been invited round to someone’s house and want to take a little gift.

I used kumquats, because that’s what I saw in Martha Stewart Living. This decision also resulted in perhaps my most middle class quest of the year: going in search of them (Sainsbury’s had them). It was worth it because kumquats lend themselves really beautifully to this idea and weren’t madly expensive. A packet that would have made this twice over cost £1.50. Plus they look festive, colourful and this was absolutely delicious: like a grown up, not too sickly, Terry’s Chocolate Orange.

But if you don’t have kumquats, or don’t like them you can put anything on top of the chocolate: slices of stem ginger, roasted hazelnuts, sliced pistachios, what ever takes your fancy, you get the idea.

For this I used a mixture of Green and Black’s milk chocolate and Waitrose Continental 70% cocoa chocolate, because I wanted it to be quite creamy. You want the slab to ‘snap’ when you serve it so don’t go too milky chocolatey, even if you want to serve it to children. To make it really grown up and ‘snappy’, make it out of all 70% cocoa chocolate. I used about 250g of chocolate in total to make this slab, which fed sixteen at after lunch coffee.

Melt in a bowl, over boiling water, then pour onto baking parchment on a baking tray. Scatter over your topping of choice. Put in fridge to set. If giving as a present – and not serving at your own dinner party – then break it up and put it in cellophane bag or if you have food-grade cellophane wrap (naturally, ahem, I do) then you can wrap the whole thing in one piece.

That’s it. So easy and looks so impressive.

Stollen

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Stollen was, like panettone and panforte, one of those things that appeared at Christmas that really wasn’t very nice. Of course, that was back in the days before I realised you could make, almost, anything yourself (I’ve still not been brave enough to try panettone, because to make it properly takes three days and involves hanging it upside down).

My friend Lisa Durbin, posted some pictures of the stollen she was making and they looked so delicious, I asked and she passed on her recipe. And yesterday, really quite late in the day, I decided to give it a go.

I have a few notes to add, which is that the marzipan stipulated seemed a bit mean to me to begin with, so for one of the loaves I doubled the amount from 50g for each loaf to 100g. As I was doing this, my partner walked into the kitchen and he reminded me that, actually, with marzipan in cooking more is not necessarily a good thing. So, suitably chastened, I went back to Lisa’s recommendation of 50g for each loaf for the others. I haven’t tasted the turbo marzipan one yet but the one with ‘just’ 50g held out his theory and Lisa’s recipe.

After making this stollen, ahem, a couple of times, I’ve settled on 75g per stollen as perfect for me.

I found 45mins too long in my oven. I cooked mine for 25 mins.

This stollen really doesn’t keep. If you don’t freeze it EAT IT on day of purchase. It won’t be so good again after that.

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I also didn’t roll mine out on a floured surface, instead rolling out between two sheets of Magic Carpet type stuff (reusable baking parchment). It’s up to you if you make your  loaves more stout and thick or long and thin. Experiment.  As per picture above, you’ll see mine are quite flat.

I ate half of one, about 20mins out of the oven, whilst watching Masters of Sex. So the two things are now, indelibly, etched in my mind. At that temperature, just warm, the stollen are frangible and seriously delicious. If you can eat it at this temperature, at least once, do so.

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Otherwise they are really not difficult to make (although if I give you one as a present then, yes, of course they are really difficult) and you get four loaves so it’s a good result vs effort. You could easily freeze some Lisa tells me (before you add the icing sugar) for another day. Or just eat them all in a stollen frenzy. You can also leave them for the final prove (the one that takes 45 mins in Lisa’s recipe) overnight in the oven, waking up to freshly cooked stollen (well, for YOU to wake up to freshly baked stollen, someone else had to get up first to bake it, but the idea is there, yes?)

ImageChristmas 2014. I made these mini this year, just cutting bits of the dough off, and rolling it with my fingers around some marzipan. Worked really well and I got about 20 mini loaves out of it. I cooked the mini ones for 15 minutes.

IMG_0388(You’ll note one is missing, it’s very important to test the merchandise before selling.)

 

Best panettone and chocolate mulled wine

I wasn’t much of a fan of panettone, growing up, despite my father coming from a region where the panettone is famous. All those raisins and candied fruit. I much preferred pandoro (‘bread of gold’) which was, to me, like panettone but without any of the bits in and you’d dust it with glorious vanilla sugar as soon as it was out of the box.

It didn’t help that the panettone you can usually buy in this country – at least until it seemed fairly recently – was pretty grim. Heavy and dry. Mine used to stay on the top of the fridge, in their cardboard box, going stale until such time as I had an idea to resuscitate them in a panettone bread and butter pudding.

This seems sacrilegious now. A few years ago, my parents got given a proper panettone. They gave it to me and I almost put it on the top of the fridge, in time honoured fashion. But something made me open it. I’m going to use words like ‘billowy’ now, so prepare yourselves because this panettone was indeed billowy. Soft, fresh….billowy. It tasted delicious and, as I remember, we ate it in one sitting. I subsequently discovered it was a very expensive panettone and it showed.

At Christmas, I usually make my Colomba in the shape of panettone. It’s not the same thing (proper panettone needs to be hung up side down when made and takes three days from start to finish) but it’s good enough. Last Christmas however, I heard, through one of my editors, Kate, at the Guardian about a panettone taste test she was doing. On her recommendation I bought the Nudo one. It was superb. Not cheap though at £15 a kilo (I’ve realised you need to spend about that much for a panettone to be any good). This year, in a fit of organisation, I went to order one on 1st November. Sold out. This annoyed me beyond explanation.

So I went to the number two one last year, Valentina and bought two. I decided to open it last weekend. Partly because I didn’t want to be disappointed if it wasn’t very good, partly because I am greedy and partly because I have decided to spread out the joys of Christmas fayre this year starting in, cough cough, late November. Anyway. It’s fantastic: everything you want a panettone to be. Really fresh, really light, tasty, glorious. You could easily eat one in a single sitting. The service was amazing and I thoroughly recommend you buy one. My children loved it too, and the sell by date is April 2014. Not that it will get that far.

It’s £12.95 for 750g and you can buy it mail order (the p&p is a bit steep at £5.95 so double up with some friends if you can) or if you can, visit one of the stores, there are five, but not sure all sell the panettone so check before going.

[Just to avoid any doubt, I paid full price for the panettone, no freebies.]

The pic above is my first slice, served with a glass of my chocolate mulled wine. Which, if you haven’t tried yet, I thoroughly recommend you, also, do.

Making your own ice cream cones

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Writing about this most happy of subjects: ice cream, is an attempt to shake off a very bad case of what I guess are called Monday blues.

Although I feel ridiculous writing about ice cream in this weather. I’m in Suffolk and it’s grey and cold. I’m back in 4 ply cashmere, last night we lit a fire, I have loads of stuff to do that I’m optimistically lumped together in an ‘in tray’ formation  (the most useful thing I ever ever read was “we all die with a full in tray so don’t try to clear it”) and I feel as creative as a piece of plain, economy photocopy paper.

So, ice cream cones. What, you may be thinking, is the figging point of making your own? Well, you may live somewhere where you can easily buy those nice sugar cones. I don’t. And last year my local supermarket, Waitrose, seemed to have a run on decent ice cream cones and for weeks and weeks all you could get were a) awful wafer cones or b) awful wafer cones in the shape of a teddy’s head. This is very serious when you are an ice cream maker’s daughter. You cannot serve good gelato in such a receptacle.

Also, I am slightly obsessed with what goes into stuff and if I can make things at home and control the ingredients, then I will. And there is always a deadline to be avoided..I’m involved in a very grown up, serious piece at the moment and when things get a bit de trop for me, I retreat into the whimsy of baking and making. Not least because I have an almost pathological need to achieve. Something. Anything. Even if it’s ‘just’ stepping back and looking at a pile of ice cream cones which I’ve just made, whilst upstairs, there are 1,000 words that remain quite, quite unwritten.

I had, somewhere in the back of the cupboard, an old pizzelle iron/maker. Pizzelle are small waffle biscuits with a fancy pattern on them. You can also roll them up into a mini cone shape. Pizzelle irons are not easy to find in the UK which is a shame.  So, because I thought it would be really frustrating for you, me banging on about how to make your own ice cream cones using something you can’t buy here, I bought a waffle cone maker from Lakeland. I know, so kind of me. [Disclaimer: I get press discount at Lakeland and have done for nearly 16 years.]

So, first and briefly, the machine. It’s £29.99 which isn’t cheap and only you can gauge whether it’s really worth buying it. We eat a ridiculous amount of ice cream in this house so for us, yes it was. It isn’t anything fancy and I can’t tell you if it’s the BEST ice cream cone maker on the market because it’s not a big market.

I can tell you this though: ignore the instructions that come with it as they are crap. If you use the plastic cone shaper that they send you, you will end up crying as it makes for a giant-aperture cone. Just chuck it in the bin. You can roll them by hand, it just takes a bit of practice. Also ignore the recipe that comes with it makes an insane amount.

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How to make plain ice cream cones, the definitive recipe after weeks of testing:

This makes about 20 cones.

75g very soft butter

125g caster sugar

300ml of water/milk. I use 250ml water, 50ml of milk. (I’ve also used unsweetened almond milk and it’s worked just fine.)

250g plain flour (for variations such as wheat free, see below)

1 egg

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

a pinch of salt

Cream the butter and sugar together. Then add the egg and vanilla extract. Mix together. Add the flour and salt and finally add the water/milk in a steady stream, mixing as you go. Beat well. You need to have a fairly thick but runny batter. If it’s too thick you’ll end up with cones that don’t cook, too thin and they’ll break easily once cooled. So don’t be afraid to experiment. It’s doubtful you’ll need less liquid that I stipulate however. I’m aware I’m sounding very bossy in this post.

Put the waffle maker onto maximum. Don’t even bother with the lower temperatures: waste of time.

I use about two soup spoons of batter. Close the waffle iron down. It takes 3-4 minutes (more like 4 but check after 3) until done. They are done when they are golden in places and dry looking. You will need to experiment a bit with what works for you.

When done, lift out with a spatula. You now have approximately ten seconds to shape your cone or it will set hard. If you’ve cooked it right, you will be able to shape it into a cone just using your hands. I lay mine flat on a chopping board and roll. Not too tightly rolled, or you’ll end up with hardly any room to put the dollop of ice cream. Not too large or you’ll need 2,000 calories worth of gelato to fill it up. It does take practice. Hold it in shape with your hand for a minute, and pinch the end (otherwise ice cream will drip through when you put it in). The cone be hot but you sort of get used to it. Or I did. That’s it, set to properly cool on a wire rack. It does take a bit of time to make them but I find it quite meditative.

They store in the infamous ‘airtight container’. They keep for a week or two, probably longer but they never last that long here.

Variations:

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Chocolate cones:

As above but replace 30g of flour with cocoa powder and up the sugar to 135g. I found these took only 3 mins.

Wholemeal cones:

Yes really! These are really tasty actually. Same as above but do half plain flour and half wholemeal. And healthier too.

Wheat/gluten free

Substitute the normal flour for rice flour. You can also make them chocolate wheat free versions by using 135g sugar instead of 125g, then adding 30g cocoa powder and using only  220g of rice flour.

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Gluten/dairy free

Substitute the normal flour for rice flour, the butter for coconut oil (slightly less: 70g) and the milk for almond milk. These taste totally delicious, and make a very crisps cone; they need slightly longer cooking (3-3 and a half minutes) because of the coconut oil. And, I think because the mixture is thicker, they spread out less and make smaller cones. I really like these.

Remember, generally:  the more liquid you add, the thinner you can get the cones. This is great if you want a very fine cone but it will break more easily.

Home made cones are a bit more fragile than shop bought ones, so handle them carefully.

A tale of two trifles

We don’t, really, have trifles in Italy. The nearest we come is cassata but although that can, technically, mean a layering of sponge, fruit, liqueur etc, it usually means an ice cream layered dessert. That said, the second trifle here is called Italian trifle, in our house, by my partner. I’m not sure why but it is.

So, here, I present two trifles, although neither are the classic trifle in that neither house any jelly at all. They both also contain booze so not really child-suitable (I should point out that it’s unlawful to give alcohol to a child under the age of five, unless under the direction of a doctor). Although I do have some friends whose children – over the age of five, ahem – absolutely devoured the Italian trifle off their mother’s plate and she had to wrestle the spoon back off them.

The first is a Nigel Slater recipe that he called the Ten Minute Trifle. I’m afraid I don’t have a photograph of it at present. It is glorious. I have since renamed it the Pregnancy Test Trifle since I credit it with being able to detect if you’re pregnant, even before you know you are.

Let me explain. In late 2002 we decided to try for a baby. Three days after ‘trying’ for a baby for the very first time, I made this trifle, as it was New Year’s Eve. I had made it many, many times before. I tasted it. And spat it out. “I’ve put far too much alcohol in here,” I said to my partner, with upper lip ruffled up in distaste. “I must have put double the amount of sherry into it.”

He tasted it. Declared it fine. But to me, it was inedible. It was another three weeks before I did a pregnancy test which declared that I was, indeed, pregnant. Another friend had this trifle and declared it inedible – too strong – and she then discovered she was pregnant.

Despite this. If you’re not pregnant this trifle is lovely. Not too strong at all. If it does taste too strong…well.

Nigel Slater’s Ten Minute Trifle

Note: this trifle contains raw egg and alcohol.

10-20 sponge fingers. You can play quite loose with the quantities as I use enough to fill the bottom of the bowl

255ml chilled marsala or sweet sherry

2 ripe bananas, sliced

1 tin of raspberries. I use the ones in juice

2 eggs, separated

50g caster sugar

225g mascarpone

vanilla extract

flaked almonds

Put the sponge fingers, broken up in half, thirds, whatever and put into a bowl. (Note this is fairly sloppy when you ‘cut’ into it so if such things matter to you you may want to make this in individual bowls/glasses, these glasses are particularly good for this.) Pour over the marsala, raspberries (with as much or as little of the tinned-juice as you need to soak the sponge fingers, discard the rest of the juice). Now put the bananas on top.

Cream the egg yolks with the sugar, add the mascarpone and beat until light and creamy. Add a dash of vanilla extract, about a teaspoon.

Whisk the egg whites until stiff and then fold them gently into the egg yolk/mascarpone mixture. Now tip it all over the fruit/sponge fingers and cover with toasted flaked almonds.

Leave it for a couple of hours before eating.

Italian trifle

This is very rich, very delicious and more-ish. I really like trifles (I know some people hate them) because you can make them in advance, as long as you have the fridge space. They are a great, often not madly expensive way of serving dessert to lots of people and if anything, they improve with 24hrs in the fridge. I’ve said before that I am master of organisation, but once people arrive through my front door and I’ve had a drink it’s every man for himself. I am a dreadful hostess. So a dessert, pre-made, that I can present with relish and show that I did, once, care about my guests, is useful.

100g sponge fingers. Absolutely use shop bought don’t even think about making them yourself

100g lemon curd

3 tablespoons of limongello or lemon vodka

500ml of double cream

125g caster sugar

100ml lemon juice. From our normal sized lemons this equals to the juice from one and a half lemons

Topping

250ml whipping cream

Zest of half an orange

Crystallized violets (optional but lovely here)

Shelled, chopped nuts. I use pistachio or toasted hazelnuts. But you can leave this bit out completely.

I make this in a 1litre pudding basin.

Break the sponge fingers in half and spread with the curd. Put them in individual glasses if you like, but this is an impressive dessert to serve in a big dish. And unlike the Pregnancy Test Trifle above, it holds its shape when cut.

Now sprinke the alcohol over the top.

In a medium sized sauce pan pour the 500ml of double cream and add the sugar. Bring to the boil over a medium heat then turn down and simmer for 2/3 minutes. Now remove from the heat and stir through the lemon juice. Pour this over the sponge fingers. In the bowl I use, this takes me almost to the top and I always have a moment of panic but as long as you have a centimetre or so of space, you’ll be fine for putting the cream on later. Push the sponge fingers down into the mixture as best you can.

Leave it out, to cool. When cool put it in the fridge. You can easily do this bit the day before, as I do. Be warned, this is already delicious and often I have a go at this pudding before the day. That’s okay though because you will have a carapace of whipped cream to hide your shame.

Either just before you serve this or when the mixture above has set you whip up the whipped cream. Spoon it over the trifle and scatter with the violet petals/nuts/zest. Either serve or put back in the fridge for enjoyment later.