A Clutch Of Easy Desserts

I pity the non-pudding people. Those who decline dessert for cheese and crackers, or coffee instead. I could not, even under the threat of torture, choose between sweet or savoury food. For someone to recklessly declare ‘I’m a savoury person’ is completely incredulous to me. More incredulous even, than people who don’t like cheese. Not liking cheese! Talking from the point of view of somebody whose intake of calcium is purely through copious intakes of daily cheese, this is like saying, “I don’t like oxygen”.
Of course, everybody has wildly varying tastes and if this wasn’t the case, then planning meals around everyone’s food preferences would be so much less interesting and, ahem, challenging.
Even so, when I go out for a meal the dessert course is always the dish that I desire the strongest. True, I enjoy the starter and main courses too, but there is something about the pudding, the anticipation because it is always served last but not least. I am always hugely upset when I am too full on the starter and main course to partake in dessert and to this end, I often make a dessert which I will serve to my dining companions, much later on, when we’ve left the restaurant. It seems like it defeats the purpose of eating out, I suppose, if you make your own dessert but I find it works well. Also, you can command the portion sizes too...
I love all desserts. From puddings to pies, cakes to choux buns, ice cream to cheesecake, pavlova to knickerbocker glory. All of them inhabit a special, jewel-encrusted space in my heart.
Each weekend I try to make a different dessert. I am on a secret mission to discover the world’s most perfect chocolate mousse (and I have come close on many occasions), ever since I first tried it at school, aged 6, a milk chocolate, frothy confection served in little roly-poly catering glasses, dissolving on your tongue like a cocoa whisp, the dollop of dream topping (basically synthetic cream) finishing off the chemical wonder perfectly. These days I prefer something with more bite, and a higher cocoa content. I hated dark chocolate when I was younger. Back then, my virginal taste-buds were untainted by excess and craved nothing more sophisticated than frozen Black Forest Gateau and Neopolitan Ice Cream. In many ways, I miss those days, where I could eat no end of junk food and still be as thin as my greyhound. Still, those days are long gone, replaced by well-prepared (but no less calorific, I fear) desserts that I’m sure taste much better than those pre-packaged cakes that start to literally evaporate before your eyes as they thaw out.
I could extol the virtues of chocolate (and I have) but for now I will simply give you a delicious and simple recipe for chocolate mousse, this one delicately flavoured with Cardomom and Chocolate Liqueur but this is just a blueprint for your experimentation. Espresso Coffee, Chilli, Cinnamon, Bay Leaves – all would infuse your mousse with the most amazingly deep flavour. Just be sure to use good quality chocolate of no less than 65% Cocoa. I use Lindt 70%.
130g plain chocolate (see note above)
85ml chocolate liqueur
2 cardamom pods, de-husked, seeds lightly crushed
2 eggs, separated
2 tbsp caster sugarcrème fraîche to serve, optional
You will also need four or five ramekins or little espresso cups.
Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of lightly simmering water. Add the coffee and liqueur. Do not let it get to hot otherwise it will seize up. If this does happen, don’t panic, remove from the heat, add a couple of drops of milk and beat like mad. It will come back again. Leave to cool.
Whilst the chocolate is melting, whisk the egg whites in a bowl until softly peaking. Add the caster sugar and continue to whisk until it has stiff peaks. I highly recommend using an electric hand whisk. Less arm power than a manual whisk, less washing up than a Kitchenaid.
Once the chocolate has cooled a little, beat in the egg yolks, one at a time.
Gently fold in, using a metal spoon, the egg whites into the melted chocolate, a few tablespoons at a time until the two mixtures are completely mixed together.
Spoon delicately into your ramekins and chill for at least an hour. Overnight is best of all. Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche, the sourness of which perfectly counters the rich mousse.

Another classic dessert that has suffered the indignity of being sold re-hydrated in packets (just stir and see!) is the cheesecake. There are many different permutations of preparing a cheesecake, some involve being cooked within a bain marie, others are served with no cooking at all. Some are flavoured and tinted. My favourite is what my husband calls New York Cheesecake but the following recipe was in fact taken from Rick Stein’s French Odyssey, so some cross-pollination going on here. This cheesecake is simple, creamy beyond belief and tastes a lot like homemade vanilla ice cream but is made wonderfully tangy with the addition of some lemon juice and zest. Served with a simple fruit compote, it is a perfect, sophisticated dessert.
Ingredients: Serves 6 generously
For The Base
100g butter
200g digestive biscuits, crushed
2 tablespoons caster sugar
For the cheesecake itself:
500g Cream Cheese (must be full fat)
200g Caster Sugar
3 medium Eggs
2 Tblsp Cornflour
300ml creme fraiche
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Firstly, make the base. Gently melt the butter in a saucepan. Add the bashed up digestive biscuits (always a rewarding job, bashing things up, particularly if you’ve had a bad day) and the sugar. Stir until well coated. Remove from the heat.
Lightly oil a 20cm Springform Tin. Pour in the buttery digestive mixture and press down firmly with the bottom of a spoon.
Preheat the oven to 150c oven.
Beat together the cream cheese and the sugar until smooth and glossy.
Add, one at a time, the eggs, beating well until fully amalgamated.
Finally, whisk in the creme fraiche, lemon zest and juice and cornflour until smooth and lump free.
Pour the primrose coloured mixture onto your digestive base and carefully place in the oven. Cook for between 45 minutes to 1 hour. Once cooked, it will still be pale and have a slight wobble to it. Turn off the oven but leave the cheesecake in the oven until completely cooled. Don’t do as I did – look at it after 45 minutes and think it’s still uncooked. It isn’t. The mixture is still very glossy, even when cooked, so it resembles liquid. I left it for another 7 or 8 minutes by which time it had cracked slightly. Also, don’t think about removing it from the oven until cold. I did and the small cracks became quite large craters. The warm cheesecake doesn’t respond well to the instantaneous temperature difference you see. They don’t tell you that in the cookbooks. Most books make some vague comment about leaving it to cool but allude it to tradition. It’s not. There is a scientific basis behind it that is founded in the final aesthetics of the dish. Not to worry though if it does crack. It still tastes wonderful and you can always drizzle the compote artistically over the cracks so no one will ever know except you.
The compote is simply made by crushing some berries (in this case raspberries) with a little caster sugar, then sieving. Stir in some whole fruits and chill.

A quick, informal dessert is one taken from Nigel Slater, which I have renamed Apples in the French Style A La Mode. It is simply apples cooked in a brandy sozzled syrup, served over warm croissants, topped with ice cream.
2 Cooking Apples, cored, quartered, then quartered again.
25g Butter
2 Tablespoons Golden Caster Sugar (which imparts a much more caramel-ly flavour than regular caster sugar)
Slosh of Brandy (Apple Brandy would be great, I happened to use my homemade Quince Brandy because that was all I had, regular would also be fine).
2 Large Croissants
Some good quality ice cream, Vanilla or Caramel flavour.
Melt the butter in a saute pan, once starting to gently sizzle, add the apple slices. Cook until starting to go golden on each side, no more than five minutes.
Add the sugar and brandy, let it all whoosh up and coat the apple pieces. Cook gently for another couple of minutes.
In meantime, split the croissants and warm under a hot grill, do not toast though.
Pour the bronzed and sticky apples over the split, warmed croissants and put a couple of scoops of ice cream on each half.


Saffron said...

Hi Freya! I'll steal your recipe of Cheesecake! You'll be a perfect italian speaking!!have a good week!

Saffron said...

Freya! wonderful! I come for dinner!;)Ribolata = Ribollita (in italian)
lots of kisses

Saffron said...

Hi Freya! do you have an email?
I want to invite you to a blog event!
Write me at saffronandpepper@hotmail.it

Eva said...

Hi Freya,

That's exactly like me... When I dine out, I pick the dessert first and choose the other courses to complement it. While thoroughly enjoying entre and main, I'll always look forward to the last and best part of the meal!

Thanks for stopping by at my blog and leaving such a nice comment! I'm still so excited when a new visitor knocks on my door... I really enjoy your writing!

Cheers, EVA