Treat any sweet tooth with these four Christmas desserts

Want to create dream desserts this Christmas? Michelle Darmody has done the work for you. 

It can be nice to have a change from the usual mince pies and pudding at this time of year. Panforte is a traditional Italian treat from the Tuscan region. It is generally made with more dates than used here but the substitution for other dried fruits brings this recipe a little closer to the flavours of Christmas we are used to in Ireland. It lasts well for a week or so in a tin and a little goes a long way. I cut it into quite thin fingers and serve it with either a strong espresso or a glass of dessert wine. You need rice paper for this recipe; if you can not find it a sheet of baking parchment at the base will help you remove it from the tin.

I often serve the fingers of panforte with a simple grilled marzipan star. After rolling the marzipan to less than 1cm in thickness it is cut with a star cutter, topped with a half of a cherry and grilled for five minutes on a baking tray. The intense almond flavour complements the rich fruit of the panforte and they look festive served beside each other on a plate or cake stand.

Scones can be a good start to a cold and frosty Christmas morning. The recipe here is made with a twist on the traditional, the soft warm flavour of saffron works well with the orange zest and cranberries and they look strikingly bright and colourful. I eat them still warm with a scraping of butter melting into the pastry. If you do not have time to make these on Christmas morning, which is quite likely, you can make the scones a day or two beforehand and then freeze them.

Lastly I included the recipe and instructions to make the beautiful cake shown here. I have used a chocolate cake at the centre of this edible townscape, but you can attach the panels to whichever cake you like. The ganache helps to stick the gingerbread to the cake but royal icing would work just as well. This would also be a nice way to decorate the sides of a traditional Christmas cake topped with a white iced snowscape. I measure the cardboard shapes against the cake tin when I cut them so I know they will all fit together around the cake. The biscuit will expand slightly while baking so allow for this. You can trim the cookies while they are still warm if you think they have expanded too much. Make sure to cut varying heights for the buildings and some skinny ones and wider ones to make a nice variety.

Recipes

Gingerbread Townscape

Cut out the buildings with cardboard to sit around your 9 inch cake tin. Use theses as guides when cutting the biscuts.

Treat any sweet tooth with these four Christmas desserts

Ingredients:

  • 450g of plain flour
  • 10g of bread soda
  • 15g of cake spice
  • 15g of powdered ginger
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 80g of brown sugar
  • 80g of butter
  • 150g of golden syrup
  • 50g of treacle

Method

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees and line a baking tray with parchment.

Mix the flour, bread soda, cake spice and powered ginger together. Stir in the egg yolks.

Melt the sugar, butter, syrup and treacle together.

Pour egg mixture into the treacle mixture. Beat until it forms a ball.

It needs to be used quickly or else it crumbles. So roll it straight away to five millimeters thick. Lay the card board templates onto the dough and cut around them with a butter knife. Lay them very flat on a baking tray with some space in between each piece.

Bake for eight minutes in oven until turning golden. Set aside to cool on the tray.

Royal Icing for Piping

Ingredients:

  • 3 egg whites
  • 450g of icing sugar
  • a few drops of lemon juice

Method

You can use a powdered, pasteurized egg white if you prefer. It is suitable for people who are not able to eat raw egg.

If using beat the powder and water until foamy and proceed as below.

Whisk the eggs lightly until they foam, add the icing sugar and beat at a low setting.

Turn up the setting when it is all combined and whisk until fairly stiff. Dilute with lemon juice as needed.

Fill a piping bag and secure shut with an elastic band.

Cut a very small hole at the top so that you can easily pipe a line about ½ a ml think.

Pipe around the edges of the the cookies and fill in windows and doors where you see fit.

Christmas Pudding Panforte

Treat any sweet tooth with these four Christmas desserts

Ingredients:

  • 2 large sheets of rice paper
  • 75g of plain flour
  • 300g of mixed nuts, toasted and chopped
  • 75g of raisins
  • 100g of sultanas
  • 50g of mixed peel
  • 150g of dried figs
  • 6 tbs of honey
  • 140g of golden caster sugar
  • 1 tbs of whiskey
  • 1 tsp of ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp of mixed cake spice
  • 1 tsp of ground nutmeg icing sugar for dusting

Method

Line the base of a 9 inch round spring-form tin with a sheet of the rice paper.

Stir the nuts, raisins, sultanas and peel into the flour. Blitz the figs until they form a smooth paste. Add them to a saucepan with the honey, sugar and whiskey. Add the spices. Heat the mixture until it starts to bubble then stir it into the flour mixture. Mix everything together well. Scoop the mixture into the lined tin and press it down well. Top with the other sheet of rice paper and press it down. Bake for half an hour at 150 degrees. Leave to cool in the tin and then cut into whichever shapes you like. Dust with icing sugar to serve.

Saffron, orange zest scones with dried cranberries

Treat any sweet tooth with these four Christmas desserts

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • enough butter milk to make 300mls with the eggs
  • 5 strands of saffron
  • 450g of plain flour
  • a pinch of sea salt
  • 1 level tsp of baking soda
  • 1 level tsp of cream of tartar
  • 80g of cold butter, cubed
  • 80g of caster sugar
  • the zest of 3 oranges
  • a handful of dried cranberries

Method

Heat the oven to 200 degrees.

Lightly mix the egg and milk and add the saffron, stir and set aside to allow the saffron to colour the milk.

Mix dry ingredients and rub in the butter then stir in the sugar and the orange zest.

Stir in the egg mixture gently with a fork rather than your hands. As with pastry the less you handle the scone dough the lighter the scones will be. The mixture should be soft but not sticky. Stir through the dried cranberries.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and pat to about an inch and a half thickness. Cut the scones with a cutter and place apart on baking tray.

If you do not have cream of tartar and soda you can substitute them for baking powder. If you do this however you will need to use milk instead of butter milk.

Bake for 15 minutes until risen and golden.

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