How to jazz up your Christmas pudding
Christmas pudding divides people like a festive game of Monopoly. For some, the steamed mound of dried fruits and brandy is the embodiment of the festive season.
Nothing can match its extravagant booziness, its weightiness, and its entrance, aflame, to the dining table. It is, to them, a bells-and-whistles dessert.
For others, and I count myself among them, it is less inviting. It is simply an excess on top of an excess, like putting icing on top of a cream cake. After a lunch consisting of pâté or soup as a starter, turkey and all the trimmings, roast potatoes and a small reservoir of bread sauce, why would you eat a pudding so dense that you can cook it with a coin in the centre without it having any discernible ill-effects?
So I put up with the arctic cold to visit Gü desserts' development kitchen in Walthamstow, North-east London. For today I will be creating my own Christmassy dessert. With the help of Gü's head chef, Fred Ponnavoy, formerly of Cecconi's in Mayfair, I will be whipping up a special version of Gü's new Christmas dessert: a festive chocolate bauble. A strange confection consisting of a football-sized perspex sphere filled with chocolate and all things indulgent, which Ponnavoy has been working on in his kitchen for 11 months.
The idea came to Ponnavoy at the Gü Christmas party last year. "I'd filled all the baubles on the tree at the party with chocolates and sweets for people to take away at the end of the night. Everyone loved it. So I thought, "why not go one better and create a Gü alternative to Christmas pudding and why not just put it in a bauble?"
The result, sitting before me on the stainless steel worksurface, is half way between a trifle and a bombe. Multi- layered, with 65 per cent cocoa chocolate ganache giving way to dark mousse with an inch-thick base of raspberry or cherry compote. It is decadent and rich but not heavy, which is exactly what Gü wanted. Today, though, it won't be the standard product we'll be making.
This afternoon, Ponnavoy and I will be tweaking the recipe slightly. Creating 10 special edition, never-to-be-remade Independent Gü baubles, signed by me and yours for the winning if you take part in the Gü competition on this page. But, the question is, what should the Independent bauble have in it? It needs to be unusual – independent, even – but still gooey enough to be Gü. So out goes the raspberry compote and in comes my own personal fruit favourites: Alphonso mangoes and passion fruit. Both fruits are mixed and made into a zesty compote.
Now what to put on top of that? We rule out a layer of chocolate sponge as a little jarring. A version made from desiccated coconut, however, seems to strike the right tropical note. The mousse has to be milk chocolate, dark being overwhelming for the mango – so an inch of it forms our third layer. At the moment with it's cloud-like, airy surface it looks like a chocolatey trifle. What's really missing is the layer of Gü chocolate ganache on the top – so on it duly goes. The five Christmas trees that stick up from the top are the crowning touch, rising from the surface like a coronet's rays.
It looks, if I do say so myself, pretty. And the taste – gooey, chocolatey and with alternating treats on every level – is as indulgent as you'd hope a Christmas dessert to be, but without the Christmas-pudding heaviness that makes you take to your bed post-lunch. As Ponnavoy points out it's fun, a conversation-starter. "We want the baubles to be a treat, something fun. What we didn't want was for it to be heavy and stodgy like a Christmas pudding. It is something you can enjoy even after Christmas lunch, and yours, I think, will be especially light."
But what if you don't win a bauble, have a chef with Michelin-star experience and half a hundredweight of chocolate to hand? Well, to see you through the festive period Fred and his staff have created three Christmassy treats that are long on wow factor and short on heaviness. Check them out below; you won't find a sixpence anywhere.
DELICIOUSLY DIFFERENT CHRISTMAS DESSERTS
COCONUT SNOWBALL PROFITEROLES
185g whole milk
5g caster sugar
210g flour type 45 (or plain)
200g whipping cream
20g caster sugar
1 tin of coconut milk
Dessicated coconut to dust
Bring to the boil water, milk, butter, salt and sugar. Add flour and stir to a paste with spatula. In a mixing bowl using the spatula incorporate the eggs bit by bit until the mixture forms soft peaks. Pre-heat the oven at 230C. Form them into profiteroles on a baking tray, place in the oven then it switch off for 10-12 minutes. Then switch back on again at 160C for around 10-15 minutes. Keep in an airtight container.
To make the chantilly cream, whip the cream with the sugar until it forms soft peak consistency.
For the coconut snow, open and pour the liquid coconut milk into a container. Freeze. When needed, pass through a food processor to create the snow.
Serve straight away or keep frozen and serve when required
To assemble, cut the choux pastry in half, place the bottom of the choux on a plate. Using the back of a spoon, spread the Chantilly cream on the top part of the choux, coat with dessicated coconut.
Pipe some coconut snow on top of the bottom part of the choux, place the top half on top and press gently. Serve at the table and pour some warm Gü chocolate ganache all around it.
EXOTIC SNOWBALL MERINGUES WITH FRUIT SALAD
2 egg whites
100g caster sugar
100g icing sugar
Half a pineapple
2 passion fruit
To make the meringue, whisk the egg whites on a low speed to create an even structure. Add the caster sugar gradually until the mixture resembles shaving foam. Using a spatula, incorporate the icing sugar. Spoon the meringue inside a dome mould (Flexipan) making sure to create a cavity. Cook at 95C for 50 minutes. Leave to cool and carefully demould. Store in an airtight container.
Peel and cut the pineapple and the mango into small cubes. Cut the passion fruit in two and squeeze them on top of the pineapple and mango. Keep refrigerated until needed. To assemble, place a dome of meringue on to the plate and fill with some of the fruit. Using a piping bag with a nozzle, pipe some mango sorbet into another dome of meringue. Place it on top of the other dome to close the snowball. Serve straight away and pour some mango coulis around it at the table in front of your guests.
MULLED WINE GRANITA
1 bottle of red wine
2 orange peel
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla pod
Cut and grate the vanilla pod, mix all the ingredients together and bring to simmer. Cool down, sieve and pour into a dish. Freeze. Agitate into a granita just before serving. Would go well with Gü's hot chocolate soufflé.