Thursday, December 30, 2010


I was sternly reminded at the Christmas table this year that overfeeding Blue Tits can make for a particularly lazy mating season. Too much pecking at the bird-feeder could result in a reduction in the number of spring-born chicks. I wonder what point they were trying to get across...

Had this person been hinting at something other than the welfare of birds, they were clearly unaware of the large and unforgiving note that reads MAKE NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION in my next year's diary.

But let's be realistic. However loud the call of abstinence from our stomachs between Christmas and New Year, from the warm dent in the sofa we cherish the days left until any solid deals are made. I know not one person who starts trimming down pre-12am on January 1st, and even then it bottles down to a strict diet of Bloody Marys.

I hail the wonderful Diana Henry, then, for her final-binge New Year's pud because January, and not a moment before, is when this tit's giving up...


following Diana Henry's New Year Entertaining recipes in Boxing Day's Stella. p. 41.
Serves 8

14 pitted prunes
100ml Armagnac/ brandy
200g plain chocolate, broken into chunks
110g unsalted butter
3 large eggs, separated
135g soft light-brown sugar
35g plain flour
75g freshly ground walnuts (ground almonds work just as well)
icing sugar for dusting

the cream
300ml whipping or double cream
2 1/2 tbsp icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp Armagnac

Roughly chop the prunes, and put them in a small pan, covering with the Armagnac or brandy. Heat to the boil, and reduce to a simmer for about 10 minutes. Set the prunes aside to plump up for a couple of hours.

Preheat the oven to 190°C/ 375°F/gas mark 5. Put the chocolate and the butter into a heat-proof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water. Heat until melted. Leave to cool a little.

Beat the egg yolks until pale and fluffy.

Sift the flour with the salt, add the walnuts and fold into the beaten yolks, followed by the chocolate and butter mixture. Now stir in the prunes and their soaking liquid.

Beat the egg whites until they form firm peaks. Using a large metal spoon fold 2 tbsps of the beaten whites into the mixture to loosen it, then fold in the rest. Scrape the batter into a 20cm (8in) buttered and base-lined loose-bottomed cake tin.

Place in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. If the cake feels firm on top and the sides have shrunken away from the tin slightly, it will be ready. The skewer-test doesn't work due to the cake's gooey centre. Leave the cake in the tin to cool completely. When cooled, remove onto a plate.

Whip the cream until it holds shape, then beat slowly while adding the sugar, vanilla and Armagnac. It shouldn't be too sloppy but sit in gentle folds.

Dust the cake with icing sugar or cocoa powder and serve the cream on the side.

A top-of-the-pecking-order cake.

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