Stunning puds with seasonal sparkle for the festive table by food writer and cook Skye McAlpine.
I have a sweet tooth. Cakes, puddings, ice cream, jellies and elaborate meringues laced with whipped cream are the stuff of my dreams. But the real joy of pudding is about more than greed: it’s an important moment in the rhythm of the meal, a place to breathe. It’s an invitation to linger at the table: to help yourself to seconds, to sip your coffee, to chatter, to relax into that delicious ‘full’ feeling that comes after a good meal well enjoyed. Pudding is tacit acknowledgement that we are not simply here to feed ourselves, but for pleasure. While I will skip a starter happily, I believe you should never skip the pudding.
Given my love of all things sweet, it is no surprise that I like to bake more than I like to cook. Baking involves a different kind of magic: it feels like you start with next to nothing – a bag of flour, a box of eggs, a little sugar – yet somehow you end up with a cake. It’s immensely satisfying.
Baking is the closest I get to quiet meditation in the kitchen. You will, therefore, find recipes here that call for a little more time. But I urge you not to be put off; if I can make them, you definitely can. They are also the kind of recipes where all the effort is ahead of time, then, when it comes to your lunch or supper party, all you have to do is bring out the dessert and enjoy the gratifying ooh-ing and aah-ing that it evokes.
I cannot overstate how unbelievably good this apple and walnut crumble pie is – pastry just-as-you-want-it crumbly, filling rich and custard-like and a topping the kind of stuff I could devour on its own by the spoonful. Best served warm with a little cream or a scoop of ice cream.
This chocolate chestnut meringue pie is a Mont Blanc of sorts, in beautiful pie form. The base is made from a mix of chocolate biscuits (any will do but bourbons work particularly well). You’ll need a cook’s blowtorch to burnish the meringue – worth the investment for the dramatic gilding effect it gives.
There’s no reason why you can’t make this fruit and mascarpone tart year round: blood oranges for late winter; strawberries at the first sign of warm weather; raspberries later in the season; peaches in high summer, then figs topped with a handful of pistachios come September.
This flourless chocolate cake recipe is adapted from the old Venetian cookbook A Tola Coi Nostri Veci. I make it using sweetened chestnut purée from France. If you can’t find it, use 400g of the unsweetened variety whisked lightly with 100g icing sugar until smooth.
I serve this chocolate and rum pudding with sharp berries or, in winter, sliced oranges topped with demerara sugar. You could substitute the rum with 1⁄2 tsp ground cinnamon, a splash of orange-flower water and some chopped candied orange peel, or throw in a handful of chocolate chips.
This panettone, mascarpone and almond cake is a wonderful way to make use of a slightly stale panettone. Once iced, it should really be eaten within a day.
This chocolate and amaretti custard is that elusive treat, a recipe you can whip up at the last minute without making a trip to the shops for supplies. If you prefer, you could serve the custard plain, or with a crumbling of anything from shortbread to ginger biscuits on top.
This Christmas cake is my mother’s recipe and I’ve made it every year for the better part of my life. Glacé fruits can be tricky (and expensive) to buy in the UK. I use a small producer called Country Products. In the absence of whole glacé fruits, decorate with a mix of dried apricots, figs, nuts and glacé cherries, then paint with a glaze of shimmering apricot jam for a simpler, rustic-looking cake.
Reach for the Skye – and save
Our recipes are from A Table for Friends with additional recipes from A Table in Venice by Skye McAlpine, both Bloomsbury, £26. To order copies for £22.88 each, go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193. Promotional price valid until 20 December. Free UK delivery on orders over £15.