It’s easy to feel the pressure to produce a perfect pudding, a sumptuous stollen or a magnificent mince pie around the festive season.
But these rich, sticky treats are not to all tastes, and can cause some decidedly un-festive anxiety if they don’t go to plan, particularly since they are not something you’re likely to make on a regular basis throughout the rest of the year so there’s no ‘practice makes perfect’.
Offerings laden with alcohol and dried fruit can also be a bit much after all the other rich festive fare of the season. Here, then, are some ideas for alternative ‘Christmas puddings’, or, rather, ways to spice up your favourite classic desserts to give them a festive twist.
Choose your favourite dessert – or the one you’re most accomplished at making! – add the required yuletide additions, and you have a special and seasonal treat to end your meal; one that has the added bonus of using up particular seasonal ingredients you might have lying around at this time of year. No pressure, no fuss.
Prepare the fruit mixture for your apple crumble, usually by cooking chopped apples with some sugar and spice for a few minutes until starting to break down. Stir in the zest of an orange. Place in the bottom of a baking dish, then dollop teaspoonfuls of mincemeat (homemade or shop-bought) over the top of the fruit. Top with your favourite crumble topping, to which you have added some roughly chopped hazelnuts or walnuts and a little mixed spice. Bake, and voila – a comfort-food classic with an irresistible festive twist, and a great way of using up leftover mincemeat.
Think of the cheesecake as your blank canvas, you culinary artist you. Whether you choose a baked or unbaked version, there are a couple of Christmas twists you can add to give a lovely light ending to a meal. Stirring some orange or clementine zest, chopped mixed peel and a splash of Cointreau or Grand Marnier into the cheese mixture gives a gloriously citrusy cheesecake reminiscent of Christmas clementines. Adding a splash of bourbon, whisky or rum and a generous amount of freshly grated nutmeg gives you an eggnog-flavoured version. A little mincemeat can be stirred through the cheese mixture for a baked cheesecake, or you could experiment with adding chestnut puree and vanilla to your cheese base for a luscious, caramel-sweet dessert reminiscent of the French delicacy crème de marrons.
Bread and butter pudding
When made properly, this nursery classic can be a surprisingly light way to end a meal. It’s a great way to use up Christmas panettone, whose airy crumb gives a lovely lightness to the pudding, but brioche or other good bread leftovers work well too. Add some dried cranberries and orange zest to the custard for a seasonal twist, or some chopped cooked chestnuts and slices of caramelised pear.
A good brownie, properly made, is a versatile thing. It can be grabbed as a craving-beating snack, but also makes a fantastic pudding when served warm, in generous slabs, with good cream or ice cream. Try stirring chopped chestnuts, vanilla essence and (optional) a splash of rum, kirsch or brandy into your brownie batter for a dark and delicious version, or add dried fruit such as dates or prunes for a lusciously sticky chocolate treat. They are also a good way of using up any nuts you have lying around, or brandy butter/cream – serve a dollop alongside your brownie for the ultimate in seasonal decadence.
Undeniably impressive, a pavlova is another blank canvas for your culinary imagination. Try stirring a little Christmas alcohol into the whipped cream topping, then scattering over sliced clementines that have been steeped in a little booze, pomegranate seeds, a few sprigs of mint and some toasted walnuts or almonds, or slices of pear caramelised in butter and brown sugar, chopped cooked chestnuts, a few finely shredded rosemary needles and some lemon zest. You could also top your pavlova with cranberries simmered with cinnamon, cloves and orange juice – a slightly sweeter version of cranberry sauce – and sliced oranges.
The key to Christmasing up a trifle is lots of booze. There, I said it. Use amaretti biscuits for your base, sprinkled with alcohol, then add orange zest and mixed spice to your custard. Layer with some fresh orange segments and finish with scattered pomegranate seeds.
No, I’m not suggesting you make it yourself – I realise that’s an unrealistic demand during December. Instead, buy the best quality vanilla ice cream you can afford and leave it to soften so it’s scoopable. Bake some (bought or homemade) mince pies in the oven until slightly golden, then leave to cool before crumbling into chunks. Stir these into the ice cream with the zest of an orange, then return to the freezer until ready to serve. This looks fabulous served in scoops in delicate glasses alongside a fancy biscuit or two. It can also be made with chunks of crumbled cooked Christmas pudding instead of mince pies.
Elly McCausland is a food writer and blogger at Nutmegs, Seven. She has a passion for travel and all things gastronomic, with a particular emphasis on fruit, breakfast and proper British puddings. When not concocting recipes or planning her next cultural odyssey, she is an English literature academic, specialising in children’s literature.