The ultimate dessert: crème brûlée

crème brûlée

A good crème brûlée always looks and tastes delicious, so when I saw this recipe by Michel Roux Jr. in a recent GoodFood magazine, I knew it had to be a winner! I always find it a bit daunting to make, but the recipe contained a lot of pictures and seemed reasonably foolproof, and it was. It turned out to be the perfect ending to a lovely New Year’s eve dinner judging by my guests who kept trying to get every last bit scraped from the ramekin! Here’s how to make it:

Heat the oven to 120 C. Put 250 ml full-fat cream or double cream, 75 ml milk (the recipe says full-fat, but I only have semi-skimmed at home and that worked equally well) and the seeds and pod of 1 vanilla pod into a pan and heat to boiling point. Cover and leave to infuse for 10 mins.

Whisk 4 egg yolks (you can freeze the egg whites to make meringues later) and 3 tbsp sugar together until pale and thick. Add 1 tsp vanilla extract and pour the boiling cream onto the mixture. Stir well, then pour into two ramekins. Place the ramekins in a deep ovenproof dish and fill the dish with water until it comes up to halfway the ramekins (au bain marie) and cook in the oven for about 20 mins or until just set. Don’t worry if it looks a bit bubbly or scrambled on the top at this point. Leave to cool.

Heat the grill. Sprinkle the cold brûlée with a thin, even layer of sugar, and caramelise under the very hot grill (or use a blowtorch). Repeat several times until you have a golden crackling topping. A blowtorch is a fantastic thing (and a great gift idea too), for dramatic effect, do this right before serving. You have the added bonus of a hot top layer on the cool pudding, a great combination! Enjoy while listening to Happy New Year by Abba (for that extra surreal touch).

Easy and so delicious: lemon pudding

Lemon puddingMy parents came to dinner recently to discuss some plans for our apartment. As it was a last minute invitation, I needed something quick, easy and with a minimum of ingredients for dessert. So I turned to my trusted Fast, Fresh and Simple cookbook by Donna Hay where I found this lemon pudding. It already looked good on paper, but it turned out to be totally delicious! I will definitely make this again and again. Here’s how to make it:

Place 500 ml cream (single pouring cream) and 110 g sugar in a saucepan over a medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Allow to simmer for 6 minutes or until the cream has reduced slightly (I usually don’t really have a clue when that is, also, I’m bad at simmering, I go from boiling to not boiling, to boiling again… that seemed to work too). Add 80 ml lemon juice (from about 4 lemons) and simmer for a further 2 minutes. Pour into cups, glasses or ramekins and refrigerate until set. If, like me, you have little time to allow them to set, you can soak 1 leave of gelatine in cold water for a few minutes, squeeze it very well and stir it into the hot creamy mixture before filling your cups.

Serve with fresh raspberries while listening to Lemonade by Alexandra Stan.

Use up left-over lemons in a light lemon drizzle cake, a lemon cake, a lemon and poppy seed loaf or a raspberry and lemon mess. You can use left-over cream in a bavarois, a mango and cardamom panna cotta or a basil panna cotta.

Sunshine on a plate: mango and cardamom panna cotta

Mango and cardamom panna cottaTo thank my sister and her boyfriend for their help in our apartment, I invited them for dinner. Of course, I needed a delicious dessert to go with it, and I didn’t find anything to my liking in my cookbooks. As summer seems to be finally over, I wanted to enjoy some last summer tastes before it’s too late, so I wanted to make something with mango. This seemed a great excuse to use cardamom as well, it’s one of my favourite spices and it goes really well with mango! So I decided to freewheel a bit and invent my own recipe for a mango and cardamom panna cotta. Here’s how I did it:

Put 5 leaves of gelatine in a bowl of cold water (they have to be fully covered) and set aside for 5 min. In the mean time, put 400 ml double cream or whipping cream (you need at least 30% fat contents) in a pan with 150 ml milk100 g caster sugar and 1 tsp vanilla extract (or the seeds of a vanilla pod) and stir to combine. Gently heat the mixture while stirring occasionally until it’s almost boiling. In the mean time, peel 1 to 2 mangos at room temperature, cut into chunks and mix in a blender until smooth (1 mango gives a subtle taste, two will make it more pronounced). Add the hot cream to the blender and blend again until smooth. Check if the mixture is still quite hot, if not you can heat it through a bit. Add the crushed seeds of 5 cardamom pods (the flavour will come through very well, if you prefer it to be subtle, stick to 3 pods instead). Take of the heat and add the gelatine leaves one by one (squeeze out all the water first) and stir well. Pour the mixture into dariole moulds and put in the fridge to set for 2-3 hours or overnight.

To unmould the panna cotta, dip the bottom of the moulds in hot water for a few seconds to loosen them, then turn them upside down on a serving plate. They may need a few sharp jerks of the hand for them to come out. If this fails, run a small knife around the side of the mould to loosen slightly. Or just don’t bother taking them out of the moulds at all. I served the panna cotta on it’s own, but if you prefer you can add some raspberry coulis as well. Enoy while listening to Sunrise by Norah Jones.

Use up some cardamom in a cardamom loaf or a chocolate and cardamom mousse. If you got more mangos than you can handle, try a lime and mango cake.

Foolproof classic: chocolate and cardamom mousse

Chocolate mousseMost people never grow tired of chocolate mousse, it’s the kind of dessert that goes “missing” if left overnight in the fridge. I’m adding cardamom to this recipe because I just love the taste, but if you prefer the classic no frills version, just leave out the cardamom and keep the rest of the recipe as is.

Put 4 ramekins or glasses in the fridge to chill while you make the chocolate mousse (this will allow them to chill more easily). Separate 4 eggs and beat the egg yolks in a bowl with 4 tbsp sugar until you get a white and foamy mass. Meanwhile, melt 150 g dark chocolate (you can use milk chocolate as well, but this will make the end result less mouse-like) with the crushed seeds of 3 cardamom pods (optional) in a heatproof bowl over simmering water. Take of the heat and cool for a few minutes, then add to the egg yolks and stir to incorporate. Add a pinch of salt to the egg whites (this will make it easier to whisk them) and whisk until stiff (you have to be able to hold the bowl upside down!). Carefully fold the egg whites into the chocolate mix and divide between your ramekins. Chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Enjoy while listening to Sugar Sugar by The Archies.

Liked the taste of cardamom? Then you will love a cardamom loaf.

Use up left-over chocolate in chocolate chip cookies, rocky road squares, regular brownies or chocolate and raspberry brownies.  Got chocolate mousse left? Use it to fill your sachertorte.

Summer flavours: basil panna cotta

Basil panna cottaOn our recent holiday to the south of England, I tried basil panna cotta at the Gurnard’s head in Cornwall. I didn’t really have much room for a dessert, but when I saw it on the menu, I just had to try it. It was so good, I decided to make it myself. I searched online for good recipes but found nothing to my liking so I decided to adapt a Lorraine Pascale recipe. The result was a big hit with our guests, although I did keep most of it for myself!

Don’t be daunted: panna cotta is the easiest thing to make! Here’s how: put 4 leaves of gelatine in a bowl of cold water (they have to be fully covered) and set aside for 5 min. In the mean time, put 300 ml double cream or whipping cream (you need at least 30% fat contents) in a pan with 250 g mascarpone, 100 g caster sugar and the seeds of a vanilla pod (add the pod as well for extra taste) and stir to combine. Gently heat the mixture while stirring occasionally until it’s almost boiling. Take of the heat and add the leaves of two bunches of basil (you really need a lot of it) and stir for 2 min until the basil is wilted. Using a stick blender, mix until you get an even green mix. Add the gelatine leaves one by one (squeeze out all the water first) and stir well. Pour the mixture into dariole moulds and put in the fridge to set for 2-3 hours or overnight.

To serve, make a strawberry sauce by mixing a handful of strawberries with 1 tbsp icing sugar. Push through a sieve if you prefer. Cut some more strawberries for decoration. To unmould the panna cotta, dip the bottom of the moulds in hot water for a few seconds to loosen them, then turn them upside down on a serving plate. They may need a few sharp jerks of the hand for them to come out. If this fails, run a small knife around the side of the mould to loosen slightly. Or just don’t bother taking them out of the moulds at all. Enjoy while listening to Strawberry Fields Forever by the Beatles.

This recipe is really versatile, if basil is not to your taste, you can add anything you want. Bear in mind that when adding sweet elements, you may need to reduce the amount of sugar. Lorraine Pascale went for a white chocolate panna cotta: to do so, stick to the above recipe but don’t add any sugar at all. When taking the mixture of the heat, add 100 g of white chocolate, instead of the basil, and stir until melted. Serve with raspberry coulis and extra raspberries.

Use up leftover mascarpone in speculamisuraspberry and orange tiramisu or strawberries with balsamic vinegar.

My all time favourite: bavarois

BavaroisMy mom stopped asking what I want to eat on my birthday as the answer has been the same for ages: bavarois! I totally love this and after a dinner party with this dessert, my boyfriend regularly catches me with my head in the fridge the day after, secretly getting some extra bites. If I’m not careful, I’ll eat the whole lot! I checked for the English name, but apart from “bavarian cream” I didn’t find anything else, so I’m sticking to Bavarois on this one. It’s basically cream, eggs, sugar and milk so only the good stuff! You need to make it a day ahead, but you can easily make it more than 1 day  ahead, it will happily sit in your fridge for over a week, that is if nobody secretly eats it in the mean time!

Here’s how to do it: soak 16 g of gelatin leaves in cold water for later use. Mix 250 g caster sugar with 6 egg yolks until they are pale and creamy (you don’t need the egg whites for this recipe, but you don’t need to throw them away: make some meringues on the spot, or just freeze them for later. You can simply defrost them afterwards and use as needed, for example to make macaroons). You can do this in a big cooking pot as it will need to go on the hob later. In the mean time, bring 1/2 liter milk to the boil. Gently add the boiling milk in small amounts to the egg mix while mixing constantly. Now put this mix on the hob until it thickens. You don’t want it to boil, so keep an eye on it. As soon as it starts to increase in volume, you know it’s almost boiling and you can take it of the hob. Now add the gelatin leaves one by one (squeeze all the water out of them first) and stir them into the mix.

Cool the mix by putting the pot in a sink filled with cold water (au bain marie). Leave it to cool for at least half an hour. Stir it every now and then to avoid it stiffening too much. If it’s getting too stiff already, just take it out of the water and get on with the next step. If on the contrary it’s still very runny after more then half an hour, don’t panic: it will turn out just as great!

Next up is the cream: beat 1/2 liter double cream until it’s stiff. You don’t want it to be too stiff, that will make it difficult to add it to the egg mix, stop when you can see the traces of your mixer and it already thickened considerably. Add 1 tbsp icing sugar to the cream and mix again. Now add the cream to the egg mix, stirring until it’s all incorporated. Poor the mix into a mould that you lightly greased with some oil (this makes it easier to get it out again), preferably not a metal mould (don’t ask me why, my mom’s recipe just mentions this, I’m sure it’s granny wisdom that thus cannot be ignored).

Put it in the fridge overnight (or longer) until it’s firm. A good way to test it, is to poor whatever bit of mix you have left in a small bowl so you have a “testing bowl”, every good cook needs to try everything before serving! When you’re ready to serve, turn it out onto a plate and hope for the best! The easiest way to loosen it is by hitting the side of your mould on the kitchen counter (you might want to put a towel in between not to alarm your guests with the noise) and work your way round so it comes loose from the sides. As soon as you get some air in it, it will loosen all the way round. Then turn it upside down on the serving plate, hit a few more times and peak a bit to see if it did the trick!

Serve with raspberry coulis (shop bought will do just fine, you’ll find it in the fridge or in the freezer) and some fresh raspberries for that extra wow factor. Obviously, strawberries or other berries will work just s well. Enjoy!