The five best desserts there are

I love pudding and thanks to my mother I still experience the joy of anticipating something sweet after every evening meal – no matter how simple as long as it’s delicious. An apple cut prettily into slices, grapes set out with style or even a simple slice of crustless bread with jam can be turned into something really special. When my children were tiny they loved faces and I spent hours turning fruit into faces, sometimes with disastrous results, but they loved it and that made it worth it.

On the top of today’s list I have to put either Crème Catalane or crème brulee and since I can’t make up my mind which one I prefer, they will both go into the number one slot as my best of the absolute best! These are the only two sweet things that I could have before dinner, for breakfast or even be woken up for in the middle of the night – and I dislike being woken up!! As with most food, there has been much heated discussion about the origin of this desert but the only conclusion I can come to is that the crème Catalane came first with the Brulee following it. Originally from Catalonia in Spain (I am convinced that there is an Arab origin, though), the Catalane is also known as Crema de Sant Josep, St. Joseph’s cream because it is served traditionally on St Joseph’s day, the 19th of March with many families eating it on no other day at all. Interestingly Escoffier, the doyen of French cuisine, fails to mention creme brulee at all in his book, Ma Cuisine. There is a difference between the two – the one is baked in a Bain Marie and the other isn’t baked, Crème Catalane is always made with orange and lemon rind in a milk and cream base, whilst the brulee is baked in the bain marie and made with cream and vanilla only.

Crème catalane (8 people)

500 ml milk
500 ml single cream
Zest of three oranges
Zest of three lemons
1 stick of cinnamon
15 large organic egg yolks
180g fine castor sugar
3 tablespoons almond milk
150 g demerara sugar for topping

Warm the milk, cream and all the zest gently in a pot. I prefer a non-stick wok shaped pot. Remove from the heat before it starts to boil. Whisk the egg yolks, the almond milk and the sugar with an electric beater on slow until it becomes a cream. Find a good fine sieve and sift the cream mixture into the egg yolks, beating them constantly until it thickens into a good creamy consistency! Cool it down in cold water whilst stirring all the time.
Warm individual ramekins and allow them to cool down. Put in the fridge until you need them. Sprinkle with the sugar and caramelize under the grill.

Crème Brulee

3 extra large egg yolks
300 ml double cream (single cream can also be used)
60 ml single cream
Vanilla pod, slit open lengthways with seeds removed
50g extra fine castor sugar
100g demerara sugar for sprinkling on top

Place vanilla seeds, egg yolks and castor sugar in a bowl and mix thoroughly with a whisk. Stir in the cream gradually, set aside for five to six minutes and strain through a very fine sieve or chinois. Pour this mixture into little ramekins and put in your bain marie. Bake for about 30 minutes in a pre-heated 190C oven for about an hour. Watch them if it’s your first time. Let them cool down and place in the fridge for a minimum of one hour – preferably more. Sprinkle the sugar evenly on all of them, covering them completely and caramelize under a hot grill. Again, watch them if it’s your first time. Remove, allow it to cool down and refrigerate well before serving.

Italian Gelato.

In Italy ice cream causes as much heated debate as pasta does. The Italians from the Dolomite claim that they are the inventors of gelato as do the Tuscans and the Sicilians. The Tuscans say it was invented during the renaissance and insist that Catherine de Medici took it to Paris when she got married to Henry VI and the Sicilians say they learnt from the Arabs! It is commonly held that no matter who made it first, the first ice cream consisted of fine, clean white snow taken from the mountains and mixing it with juice, honey, wine or berries. Before the advent of the fridge these ice cream dishes were kept in the subterranean caves since that was the only place where they could keep – albeit a very short while. The first ice cream parlour in the world was opened by Francesco Procopio de’ Coltelli – his Café Procope in Paris soon became famous and exists to this day! I adore good Italian gelato and when I was in Rome last November, Alessandra and Lisa patiently gave in to me when I wanted to stop each time I spied a gelateria in Rome. Back in Cologne I was again humoured by my children when I wanted to buy a single gelato in the middle of a bitterly cold German winter and eat it, which I may add, is an excellent time to do so. There’s sorbetto, made without milk or eggs, the most diet friendly of the lot and a water-based ice cream made from fruit juices, purees, wines, spirits and a host of other things. It is my personal favourite after a heavy meal. Lemon sorbetto is classically served between courses to refresh the palate. Gelato mantecato is made from milk, sugar, flavourings and egg yolks and gelato perfetto is made with cream only. Bomba’s are joyous celebrations of flavours, fillings and layers of heavenly tastes and a frullato is merely a milkshake made with fruit or fruit sorbet and milk and a frappe is made when cold vanilla or coffee flavoured milk is poured over ice cubes. Granita – a Neapolitan classic consists of unadulterated fruit juices or black coffee poured over crushed ice. It’s the best thing for any exhausted and parched person to have on a searingly hot summer’s day. Gramolata, essentially vanilla ice cream served on and almond base with little cookies has to be one of the most perfect meal endings there are and in Costanzo the spumone, a chocolate ice cream with a centre of zabaglione elicits pure poetry!

The basic Italian gelato recipe consists merely of 4 large egg yolks, 100 g fine castor sugar and 500 ml cream. The fluffy egg yolk and sugar mixture is warmed very slowly over a low heat whilst stirring constantly. One adds the cream bit by bit, stirring constantly and once it is all in, remove from the heat to cool down whilst stirring occasionally. This mixture is then put into an ice cream maker and left to set.

Lemon Desert

This brings me to my next desert, which is my mother’s recipe and something to be tasted to be experienced. It has no history of which I am aware other than she made it with love when we were small, growing up and the last time just before my father died – at which time she stopped cooking, never to start again. She used her standard ice cream mousse recipe, adapting when she felt like doing so. All the daughters of the family have made it and we keep it in our repertoire’s of unbelievably good deserts, to be handed over and down in the family, as all good recipes should be. It is rare that I share my family recipes.

Crust

¼ cup butter with the peel of one 1 lemon and 1 cup ginger biscuit crumbs
2 tablespoons sugar
Mix crumbs, butter and sugar together and set aside

Filling
500 ml cream
4 jumbo sized eggs
1 cup fine demerara sugar (150g)
½ cup lemon juice (freshly squeezed not the shop variety)
1 tablespoon lemon rind – grated
1 extra egg white

Method
Separate the egg yolks and the whites. Beat the whites separately with the sugar – set aside. Beat the yolks with the lemon rind, a little of the sugar and, lastly, the lemon juice. Whip the cream separately until thick. Now fold everything together well with a metal spoon – not an electric beater.
Place the crumbs flat on the bottom of a suitable container for freezing and serving (or, alternatively, individual containers). Add the filling, hit the container firmly on your kitchen table before you cover it and put into the freezer to enable the air bubbles to settle nicely.
Serve as is or with any berry puree that happens to be in season – if you like!

Chocolate mousse

For years only found in French kitchens, it was introduced to the rest of the world in the early 1960’s. I was a little girl at that time, so I wouldn’t remember it, but what I do know is that both my mother and my grandmother have many recipes dated long before that.

I will give you my mother’s recipe here, adapted over the years to accommodate to suit my mood. My children don’t like small portions and I had to do something to make the mousse less rich so I added egg whites. It can also be made with good white chocolate if you know how to melt white chocolate properly.

400 g dark chocolate. I always use Lindt (or good white, if you have – remember the white chocolate is extremely rich)
4 egg yolks
150 fine castor sugar
200 ml whipping cream
8 egg whites

Melt the chocolate over boiling water;
Whisk the egg yolks and 130 g of the sugar until frothy and light and add the chocolate very slowly to prevent any reaction, stirring well until it’s completely taken up by the egg and sugar mixture;
Whisk the cream until stiff and doubled in size are formed and then incorporate the egg and chocolate mixture into the cream;
Whisk the egg whites and the other 20g sugar until stiff;
Fold into the chocolate mixture carefully until well mixed and place into individual serving glasses, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. You can also form into shapes if you have the forms available.
Remove and decorate as you wish.

Meringues

Meringues were invented in the Swiss town of Meiringen by Gasparini . In 1692 the first mention was first made in Maissialot’s recipe book – the English soon adopted it into their own cuisine as well. It is one of the most versatile deserts on the planet today and is used across the board all over the world.
As can be expected there are many interpretations but I will give you one I found in the Larousse and also include my mother’s for its simplicity and perfection – she loved sweet things and it is only now that I realise she was a genius and way before her time when it came to all things sweet.
There are many different kinds of meringue but the greatest contributors here would have to be the Swiss, the Italians and the French. Swiss meringue demands that the egg whites be whisked over a bain marie so that the egg white can be warmed up first and then steadily whisked until finished, the Italian meringue uses boiled, cooled syrup and the French recipe which is like my mother’s works on the following basis:

2 egg whites
150 g fine castor sugar

Beat 2 large egg whites with a dry whisk whilst incorporating the castor sugar bit by bit. When stiff and peaks have formed, pipe the required shapes onto a floured and buttered baking sheet for meringues. Dry the meringues on the lowest setting of your oven for 12 hours, keeping the door of the oven ajar slightly in order to maintain the low temperature. Meringues are dried and not baked.

Swiss meringues – the Larousse

500 g icing sugar
6 egg whites
3 drops good white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla sugar
pinch of salt

Whisk the icing sugar, two eggs, the vinegar, vanilla sugar and salt well together until the mixture is white and smooth;
Beat in the four stiffly whisked egg whites and mix well but carefully;
Pipe the mixture onto a floured and buttered baking sheet;
Dry the meringues on the lowest setting of your oven for 12 hours, keeping the door of the oven ajar slightly in order to maintain the low temperature;
As I said before, the meringues must be dried out and not cooked.

I will not elaborate on the myriads of deserts that have grown out of the simple invention by Gasparini since we will be here all night, but even anyone has a really good lemon meringue pie recipe for me, I would be happy to test it!

As far as the wine goes I would suggest a muscat based wine with the first two, a not-so-sweet port with the chocolate mousse, a Sauternes with the lemon desert (I suppose you can see that I have just discovered Sauternes), champagne with the meringues and everthing else.

7 Comments

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7 responses to “The five best desserts there are

  1. Now this is the kind of post that should be on the front page of Foodbuzz — an article full of info with a recipe to boot. I just left a note on your chalkboard. Fantastic entry!

  2. Thanks so much – coming from you, this is an honour indeed!!!

  3. I agree with Creme Brulee on top!

    Have never had Creme catalane, so that was an easy choice for me.

    Personally I am not too fond of chocolate mousse and will replace that with malva pudding (or perhaps cape brandy pudding)

  4. I’ve just had dinner but not dessert, and this post is leaving me drooling.🙂

  5. Good – which is why we were meant to have complete meals.

  6. brilliant idea’s for food, will def try out and let you know the result🙂

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