Food & Drink Three showstopping festive desserts for an alternative to Christmas...

Three showstopping festive desserts for an alternative to Christmas pud

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As soon as I could help with such things, I was the one who looked after the alternative pudding for Christmas Day. The Christmas pudding naysayers included me when I was much younger. I didn’t like the dried fruit. Every Christmas Eve I made trifle, a trifle that became more and more complex the more I learnt about food. Most people had the traditional pudding on Christmas Day but every one of us snuck into the fridge for big spoonfuls of trifle when nobody was looking. It got more delicious as it sat there.

Alternative Christmas desserts have to be rich or glittering or both. In the past I’ve served pomegranate and blood-orange granita – the chips of ice looking like crunchy coloured snow – and luscious port and cranberry jellies. Jelly still seems like a child’s pudding but not if it’s alcoholic.

If there are excess jellies in the fridge – the ones that will be going spare on Christmas Day – I will eat them gradually with a very small spoon, pretending that the size of spoon is dictating how much I steal, not the number of spoonfuls. Sorbets made of pears that have been poached in red wine, a rich dark-chocolate cake filled with cream and a runny jam of sour cherries, trifles made with figs, pomegranate molasses and cream flavoured with cardamom (a kind of Arabian Nights trifle) – I have stretched my imagination and it’s always a thrill.

Other traditional British puddings are known for their frugality and simplicity. Bread and butter pudding, crumble, rice pudding – they haven’t become loved because they’re grand, but because they’re the opposite (a Christmassy bread and butter pudding is a splendid light alternative to the Christmas pudding, though). You are allowed, however, to go that bit further at Christmas. Visions of sugar plums do, indeed, dance in my head.

There are no-hassle alternatives that feel grand as well: a platter of black grapes; a glowing slab of quince cheese (buy it) to eat with the Stilton; dried figs – stuffed with a chunk of plain chocolate and a nugget of marzipan – each wrapped in purple tissue paper. You shouldn’t feel bad about not cooking a pudding and offering these instead.

This year my offerings go from the rich (the cake) to the totally indulgent (the Sauternes custards). Both can be made in advance while the meringue wreath is started the day before and kept somewhere dry. The fruit should be cut no more than an hour before you want to use it and the wreath assembled at the last minute.

Let the sugar plums dance.

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