Michelle Darmody bakes the best festive treats

THIS year I decided to steer away from the classics like pudding and mince pies.

Most people will have their mince and other traditional bits and pieces made at this stage and the flavours will be nicely blending together, ready for Christmas Day. Instead, I have chosen five cakes and desserts that will help brighten up your Christmas table.

The coconut cake is a good alternative to a traditional fruit cake as it can be decorated in a similar white fashion, but when you cut into it you get sticky layers of coconut sponge with nice sweet jam. I love the look of bundt cakes. This recipe has a nice comforting winter feel to it. I love the brandy soaked raisins throughout but if you prefer you can use another flavour instead, Pedro Ximenez sherry is also wonderful or orange juice would also work.

The chocolate lime slices are a zesty treat to cut through the richness of all the other Christmas fare. At times I like to give gifts that I make myself and the little chocolate cranberry bites are perfect. You can put them in a little box or wrap them up to give to a friend.

Mincemeat-filled donuts are far tastier than they sound. This sweet pastry recipe I learned on a trip to Bath in England during a baking course with baker Richard Bertinet. It is very versatile as you can bake it to make nice sweet pastry or fry it for the less healthy alternative donuts. Here I have adapted it to make it more festive by stuffing them with mincemeat.

Mincemeat-filled Donuts 

Makes 15 

125 mls of milk 

3½g dried yeast 

250g of strong white flour 

30g of butter, soft 

20g caster sugar 

4g salt 

1 egg, lightly beaten 

Sunflower oil for frying 

Filling: 

A jar of good quality mince meat 

Decorate: 

Icing sugar 

Heat the milk to body temperature, when you dip your finger in it should be a nice comfortable heat. Stir the yeast into the flour and set your mixer to the lowest speed with the dough hook attachment. Add the sugar, butter, salt and eggs. Turn the mixer up to medium and allow to kneed for 7 to 8 minutes until the dough has formed a smooth ball.

Place into a lightly oiled bowl and cover. Let it sit in a warm place for about an hour until the dough has doubled in size.

Divide the dough into 15 round balls each weighing 40 grams. I usually weigh the first and then do the others by eye. Heat a large saucepan filled with sunflower oil or use a deep fat fryer if you have one. Drop the donuts into the oil. They should start to sizzle. Once golden on one side, turn them over so that they are a nice, even colour all over.

Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a few layers of kitchen paper. Once cool enough to handle make a slit in each donut and push a teaspoon or so of mince into the centre of each. Sprinkle with icing sugar.

White Chocolate Nut Clusters 

Makes 15 

400g of white chocolate, broken into small even size pieces 

A handful of dried cranberries, chopped 

A pinch of red chilli flakes 

A handful of almonds, sliced 

1 tbsp of cream, room temperature 

Temper your white chocolate if you would like a nice sheen on the surface.

Put two thirds of the chocolate into a bowl and sit it over a saucepan of water. The bowl should not be in the water but resting above it. Bring the water slowly to the boil over a low heat allowing the chocolate to melt gently. Do not let steam from the bowl into the chocolate and resist the urge to stir.

Once it has melted remove from the saucepan and stir the remaining chocolate into the bowl. You will need a thermometer for this bit. You need to stir the remaining chocolate in until it reaches 28 degrees. It may take some patience. If you are using dark chocolate it needs to be brought to 32 degrees and milk chocolate to 30 degrees.

Spoon some of the chocolate into each mould and run it around so it coats the hollow completely. Scrape any excess off with a knife so you have an even shell. Allow to rest in the fridge for 10 minutes.

In the meantime, stir in the cranberries, chilli, almonds and cream into the rest of the chocolate. You can soak the cranberries in some alcohol if the sweets are for adults. Spoon the mixture into each of the prepared shells, scrape the top again with a knife and pop back into the fridge until set.

Chocolate lime slices 

For the base: 

250g of plain flour 

250g of butter, cold and cubed 

100g of icing sugar 

18g of coco powder 

A pinch of sea salt 

For the topping: 

4 eggs 

A pinch of salt 

The zest of 3 limes and 80 mls of juice 

300g of caster sugar 

20mls of lemon juice 

1 level tsp of baking powder 

50g of plain flour 

To make the base: Line a 9 inch square tin with baking parchment.

Mix all the base ingredients together until they form a bread crumb texture.

Pat the mixture down evenly into the tin and bake at 180 degrees for 23 minutes 

To make the topping: Beat the eggs, salt, zest and sugar until it has doubled in volume. 

Add the other ingredients; don’t beat at this stage, just mix together.

Pour on top of the slightly cooled first layer and bake for another 20 minutes at 180 degrees. If it still wobbles bake it for another 1- 2 minutes.

Once cool cut into squares and dust with icing sugar. A knife that has been dipped into hot water just before you cut works best.

Brandy-Coated Bundt Cake 

170g of butter, soft 

110g of muscovado sugar 

260g of flour, and more for dusting 

2 tsp of baking powder 

½ tsp of baking soda 

2 eggs 

160 mls of maple syrup 

2 tsp of vanilla 

1 tsp of mixed spice 

240 mls of creme fraiche 

a handful of raisins 

½ tbsp of brandy 

For the icing: 

100g icing sugar 

50g butter 

4 tbsp brandy 

1 tsp of vanilla 

Preheat oven to 180 degrees 

Grease the Bundt tin well and then completely cover with a layer of flour.

Soak your raisins in the brandy and set aside. Beat the butter and sugar, until light and fluffy. Slowly beat in the eggs, one at a time, then beat in the maple syrup and vanilla, until combined.

In another bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda and baking powder, until they are completely combined.

Slowly beat in half of the flour mixture, then the creme fraiche. Add the rest of the flour.

Drain any excess brandy from the raisins and stir them through the mixture. Scoop the mixture into your prepared tin. Bake for 35 minutes, until golden on top and a skewer comes out clean. Let it cool for at least ten minutes, before turning it over onto a wire wrack.

Melt the butter for the glaze and stir in the sugar, until melted. Add the brandy and vanilla. Once the cake is completely cooled, pour the glaze over.

Coconut cake with a sticky jam layer

200g of plain flour, sieved 

A pinch of salt 

2 tsp of baking powder 

75g of butter, soft 

75g of caster sugar 

50g of desiccated coconut 

2 tsp of vanilla essence 

1 egg 

120 mls of milk 

30 mls of coconut milk 

Coconut icing: 

110g of desiccated coconut 

320g of icing sugar, sieved 

2 egg whites, lightly beaten 

1/2 tsp of lemon juice 

Grease and line an 8 inch round cake tin.

Mix flour and salt and rub in butter until it forms rough bread crumbs. Lightly beat the egg, milk and vanilla together. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients until completely combined. Bake at 180 degrees for an hour.

Allow to cool in the tin for ten minutes then turn out onto a wire rack. You’ll need 4 generous tbs of a red berry jam, I use a berry that we make in Cake Café. 

Once the cake has completely cooled gently cut it into three discs. Spread jam on two of the discs. Pile all three on top of each other so you have nice layers of jam in the centre.

To make the icing: Beat the coconut, icing sugar and egg whites until completely combined. Add the lemon juice at the end. You can add a little more if you feel the icing is too stiff.

Spread the icing onto the cake with a pallet knife that has been dipped into warm water.


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