Friday, December 23, 2005

Just Desserts

I’ve been doing a bit of cooking today. I volunteered to bring the desserts for my family’s Christmas celebration, which is being held tomorrow on Christmas Eve. Everybody else has been charged with some aspect of the day’s food. My sister V and I came up with this plan over the telephone. We thought that since we’re all going to my mother’s for the day (also our idea) it would be best that the guests brought the food. Normally, in our rather dysfunctional family, the person who is the host makes the meal and we all give a donation to cover expenses. My sister tells me that she has been invited to my mother’s for dinner on many an occasion, only to find herself preparing the meal she’s been invited for. We devised our plan in order to avoid exacerbating the already high tensions that arise when we’re all in the same room with the irritation caused by hunger.

I nominated myself to make dessert because I’m always on the lookout for an excuse to cook sweet things for other people. I like the creativity involved in making cakes and desserts, but I won’t cook them for myself at home. I need no encouragement to eat more sweet things in addition to those that I eat in social situations and, of course, if anything high in sugar and fat is sitting in my fridge or cupboard I will eat it because I have NO willpower. None. As they say, ‘Nil. Zip. Nada’.

I’ve been particularly keen to try more of the Italian-inspired cake recipes from the River Café Cookbook Easy. One year, when I was still working at the call-centre and, therefore, working on Christmas day, I stayed over a co-worker’s place and with a few other people we had an orphan’s Christmas. On that occasion I made Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers’ recipe for Dark Truffle. It’s made of 70% chocolate melted together with top quality cream, which is then poured into a spring-form tin, refrigerated to set, and sprinkled with cocoa to serve. I was recently talking to another friend about this concoction, which she has also made, and we agreed that this dessert is like a shot of adrenalin to the heart. You might recall how Uma Thurman’s character is saved from a drug overdose in Pulp Fiction—that’s the level of the jolt you receive after a mere sliver of the Dark, Dark Truffle.

For this Christmas, I wanted to find something that would fulfil both the expectations people have for plum pudding at this time of the year and my desire to experiment with combinations I haven’t done before. More recently people have rejected traditional fruitcakes as well and so a new expectation for something with chocolate in it also had to be considered. I ended up choosing two cakes to make.

The first cake is a Plum and Orange Almond Cake. This cake epitomises what I love about the cakes in Easy. They don’t use much flour, using almond or other nut meal instead, which makes for a moist and dense, although not heavy, texture. I am also a big fan of grated citrus rind in cooking and this cake has orange rind added to the first stage when the fresh plums are baked, and in the final stage where rind is added to the toffee-like mixture that will coat the flaked almonds that decorate the top. This cake asks for a vanilla pod as well, which I’m always happy to provide. I like the way the plums disappeared into the mixture while cooking; it will make for a Christmas surprise when it’s cut.

The second cake I decided to make is a Walnut and Brandy Chocolate Cake. I think this cake satisfies both the old and new expectations for Christmas fare. I tipped a little bottle of brandy over it after it had cooled, which places it firmly in the Christmas category, and the 300g of ground walnuts in the mixture take it even closer to the mark. This cake doesn’t have any flour in it at all. Its air comes from egg whites which have been whipped to a frenzy of peaks. Egg whites added to cakes like this always make for a nice meringue-like crunch to the crust of the cake. I am looking forward to partaking of this one.

As you can see I’ve made way too much for six adults and one little banana-chicken-niece to consume in one day, so feel free to help yourself to a slice. There’s some Sara Lee Vanilla Ice-Cream to put on the side if you like. Merry Christmas! Enjoy!

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