Not a fan of the traditional festive pudding? Try these alternative Christmas dessert recipes instead, inspired by fairy tales, New York and the Middle East.
Christmas dinner is one of the best meals of the year, no question. Pigs in blankets, stuffing, brussels sprouts (yes, I’m calling it, they are a Good Thing) – what’s not to love? And when else do you get to eat a sauce made out of actual bread?
While most of us will agree that the main course is a hit, often what comes after can feel like a bit of a let-down after such a feast. Especially if you’ve got a particularly sweet tooth. Because Christmas pudding, admit it, is not a great dessert. It’s stodgy, sad-looking and needs to be set on fire to make it anywhere near interesting. So if you, like me, want to break away from tradition and serve something more, well, appetising, here are three alternative festive sweets.
First up, if you prefer individual desserts try these crème brûlée tartlets topped with pears that have been marinated in mulled wine from Fairytale Baking by Christin Geweke. Slice the pears into a fan effect for an artful finish.
If you’re gunning for a spot on The Great British Bake Off next year, this recipe for a showstopping centrepiece of cranberry-and-sweet-cream-cheese-filled candy cane bread, from New York Christmas Baking by Lisa Neischlag and Lars Wentrup, is great to serve whole and leave guest to tear and share.
And if dessert for you means chocolate and only chocolate (we all know one…), Honey & Co’s delightfully named cloud cake is light and airy (of course), served with a cinnamon and redcurrant syrup. May your days be merry and sweet.
Crème brûlée tartlets with mulled wine pears
Ingredients (makes 8)
For the pastry:
- 200g plain flour
- 50g ground almonds
- 50g sugar
- 1½ tbsps vanilla sugar
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 pinch salt
- 125g cold butter
- 1 egg yolk
For the filling:
- 1 vanilla bean
- 4 egg yolks
- 50g sugar
- 300ml single cream
- 100ml milk
For the mulled wine pears:
- 3 pears
- 200ml red wine
- 50g sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 2 cloves
- ¼ tsp ground cardamom
- 1 pinch ground ginger
- 1 orange
- Butter, for greasing
- Flour, for dusting
- 45g brown sugar
Step 1: Start preparing the mulled wine pears the day before. Peel and halve the fruit and remove the cores. Place the red wine, sugar and spices into a wide saucepan. Peel and juice the orange. Add the peel and juice to the pan. Bring to the boil, then simmer over low heat for 8 minutes. Strain the mixture through a sieve. Discard the spices and orange peel and return the wine to the saucepan. Bring to the boil and add the pears. Simmer until soft, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. Leave the pears to marinate in the refrigerator overnight.
Step 2: For the pastry, combine the flour, ground almonds, sugar, vanilla sugar, cinnamon and salt in a mixing bowl. Dice the butter and rub into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk and knead everything until well combined. Shape the dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.
Step 3: For the filling, split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar until thick and creamy, about 5 minutes. Combine the cream, milk, vanilla seeds and empty pod in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Take off the heat, remove the vanilla pod and whisk the cream and milk mixture into the egg yolks, stirring continuously. Leave to cool.
Step 4: Preheat the oven to 190°C. Butter eight 10cm tartlet tins and dust with flour. Roll out the pastry dough about 3mm thick on a lightly floured surface. Line the tins with the pastry. Prick the bases all over with a fork and bake for about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and divide the cooled filling among the bases (you may have some filling left over, depending on the depth of the tins). Reduce the oven to 140°C. Bake the tartlets for another 35–40 minutes.
Step 5: Remove the tartlets from the oven and set aside to cool. Carefully unmould, then refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Sprinkle the tops evenly with brown sugar. Use a kitchen torch to caramelise the sugar and create a golden crust. Remove the pears from the liquid and drain well. Thinly slice into fans and arrange on top of the tartlets.
Recipe from Fairytale Baking by Christin Geweke (£20, Murdoch Books)
Candy cane bread
Ingredients (makes one loaf)
- 300g plain flour
- 30g demerara sugar
- ½ tbsp dried yeast
- ½ tsp salt
- 50g butter, melted
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 170ml lukewarm milk
For the cranberry filling:
- 150g cranberries
- 30g demerara sugar
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 15g cornflour
For the cream cheese filling:
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 100g cream cheese, at room temperature
- 2 tbsps demerara sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
For the topping:
- About 2 tbsps milk
- About 100g icing sugar
- Flour for dusting
- 1 egg yolk for glazing
Step 1: Combine the flour, sugar, yeast and salt in a mixing bowl. Whisk the butter and egg into the milk and stir the mixture into the dry ingredients. Knead for about 5 minutes to make a soft dough. Cover and leave to rise at room temperature for 2 hours.
Step 2: For the filling, combine the cranberries, sugar and lemon juice in a saucepan. Bring to the boil, then simmer over medium heat for 4 minutes. Sift the cornstarch into the cranberry mixture, whisk to combine and simmer for another 1 minute. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
Step 3: For the cream cheese filling, whisk the egg with the remaining ingredients until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Step 4: Dust your benchtop with flour and roll the dough out to a rectangle about 55 x 20cm. Transfer the dough to a sheet of baking paper, leaving about a quarter of the long side to overhang (this part will be bent to make the cane shape later). Use a sharp knife to cut 10cm slits along the long side of the dough at 2cm intervals. Do this from both sides, leaving a 10cm wide strip intact at the centre. Spread this centre strip first with the cream cheese filling and then with the cranberry filling. Set aside a small amount of cranberry filling for decorating the bread. Fold the cut strips diagonally across the filling, alternating between the left and the right sides, to make a plaited pattern. Bend the plait into a cane shape and slide it onto a baking tray, together with the baking paper. Brush the bread with the egg yolk and leave to rise for 30 minutes.
Step 5: Preheat the oven to 180°C. Bake the candy cane bread for 35–40 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely.
Step 6: Whisk the milk into the icing sugar until smooth, then drizzle over the bread in diagonal lines. Do the same with the reserved cranberry filling to create a red-and-white candy cane pattern.
Recipe from: New York Christmas Baking by Lisa Neischlag and Lars Wentrup (£16.99, Murdoch Books)
Chocolate cloud cake with berries
Ingredients (to fill an 18cm cake tin)
For the chocolate cloud sponge:
- 3 eggs whites
- 130g dark brown sugar
- 3 egg yolks
- 200g double cream
- 60g flour
- 40g cocoa powder
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- Pinch salt
- 60g bitter chocolate, chopped into small flecks
For the filling and topping:
- 200g sugar
- 1 stick of cinnamon
- 400g red and blackcurrants (either colour or a mix)
Step 1: To make the filling, set a frying pan on the hob on a high heat, sprinkle in the sugar and stir until it has dissolved and turned to a light caramel. Add the fruit and the cinnamon stick and mix – don’t worry if the sugar seizes a little around the fruit, just continue stirring until it dissolves again. Then remove from the heat and allow to rest while you make the sponge.
Step 2: Heat your oven to 170C. Prepare your tin by lining it with a large round of baking paper that you push down into the tin, allowing for a rim at least 2cm higher than the sides of the tin. Whisk the egg whites with 50g of the sugar. In a separate bowl, mix the remaining cake ingredients until they are well combined.
Step 3: Fold the two mixes together, trying to keep as much air in the mix as possible.
Step 4: Spoon half the cake mix into the paper casing, sprinkle with 3 tbsps of the cooked fruit and top with the rest of the chocolate mix. Place in the centre of the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Rotate the cake in the oven and allow to bake for another 10-14 minutes; it should feel like touching a cloud – it will have a little bounce but still be soft. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes. It will sink a little in the centre but that is part of its charm – and where you put the rest of the fruit, along with some of the cooking liquid, before serving. Alternatively, serve the liquid as a fruit compote on the side.
Recipe from: Honey & Co At Home by Sarit Packer & Itamar Srulovich (£26, Pavilion)
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Photography: Lisa Neischlag, Patricia Niven, Yelda Yilmaz
Jenny Tregoning is deputy production editor and food editor at Stylist, where she combines her love of grammar with lusting over images of food