With Christmas less than three weeks away, now’s the time to start planning that extra special festive lunch or dinner for family and friends. With mains always sorted – turkey, ham or other favoured roasts – it’s always the dessert that stumps us time and time again. Who better to turn to for the answer than the chef lecturers at Capsicum Culinary Studio, South Africa’s most chosen culinary school with six campuses countrywide.
Here they offer up a variety of sweet treats, any of which is sure to impress family and friends.
Ewan Johnston’s Ultimate Gingerbread Cookies
Johnston is a lecturer at Capsicum Culinary Studio’s Rosebank, Johannesburg campus and says children and adults love these cookies and decorating them is a great way to get the whole family involved.
1 tbsp baking powder
50g brown sugar
1 tbsp gingerbread spice (more if you want a spicier cookie)
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp ground star anise
Place the honey, sugar, vanilla and butter in a pan, over a low heat, and stir until dissolved. Allow to cool. Mix all the spices with the egg and add to the cooled sugar mixture, stirring until combined. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder and then mix half of this into the egg and sugar mixture until fully incorporated. Add the remaining half and combine. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours. Remove and roll the dough to a 1cm thickness and use a cookie cutter to cut out desired shapes. Grease two baking trays with butter and line with baking paper. Bake at 180˚C until puffed up slightly and golden brown. The cookies will be soft while warm but once they have cooled, they will harden and be ready to decorate.
Chef’s Note: Get the family to help decorate the cookies using royal icing. With a handheld mixer, whisk the 3 egg whites until frothy then add the icing sugar and beat on low speed until blended. Increase speed to medium-low and beat until mixture is thick and shiny, 3 to 5 minutes. Divide the icing into small bowls and use food colouring to tint the icing to whatever colours you want to use (optional). Then add water, little by little, to get the right consistency. Use a thicker icing for details and outlines and a thinner icing for covering the surface of the cookies.
Nadia Pillay’s Eggnog Cheesecake
Pillay lectures at Capsicum’s Nelson Mandela Bay campus and says this is a favourite festive season dessert. It serves 10.
250g ginger snap biscuits
1 tsp ground cinnamon
100g butter, melted
3 tsp gelatine powder
675g cream cheese, at room temperature
¾ cup caster sugar
1tsp mixed spice
600ml thickened cream
2 tbs dark rum
2 tbs brandy
Grease and line the base and side of a 22cm springform pan. Place biscuits and cinnamon in a food processor and process until you have fine crumbs. Add butter and process until combined. Using the back of a metal spoon, press the biscuit mixture evenly over the base and up the side of the pan. Refrigerate for at least an hour. Meanwhile, sprinkle gelatine over a ¼ cup of cold water in a small bowl. Stir with a fork until the gelatine has dissolved and become sponge-like. Set aside. (When you need to use the gelatine place the bowl over hot water to melt it so it turns liquid before adding it to your mixture.) Place the cream cheese, sugar and mixed spice in a clean food processor and process until smooth. Gradually add half the cream and process until combined. Add rum and brandy and mix until combined. Add the gelatine mixture and process. Pour the batter into the pan with the chilled biscuit base. Refrigerate overnight or until set. Using an electric mixer, beat the remaining cream until just-firm peaks form. Transfer cheesecake to a plate. Dollop with cream and sprinkle with extra cinnamon to serve.
Samantha Davis’ Christmas Chocolate Roulade
Davis is a professional pastry student and recent graduate from Capsicum Culinary Studio’s Nelson Mandela Bay campus and says this dessert is a great substitute for those who don’t like the traditional Christmas pudding.
3 large eggs, separated
175g caster sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 large orange
200g unsweetened chestnut purée
15g cocoa powder, sifted
2 pinches cream of tartar
For the filling
2 level tablespoons cocoa powder, sifted
5 level tablespoons icing sugar, sifted
Pinch ground cardamom
300ml double cream, lightly whipped
75g extra bitter chocolate, melted
Preheat oven to 200ºC and line a 30cm x 23cm Swiss roll tin with baking paper then brush with melted butter. Place egg yolks in a food mixer with 125g of the caster sugar and orange zest and whisk until thick and pale. Whisk in chestnut purée and fold in cocoa powder and cornflour. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Add 50g of caster sugar and whisk lightly so the meringue is soft, not stiff.
Fold the two mixtures together and spoon into the Swiss roll tray. Bake in the oven for 12 – 15 minutes, or until springy to the touch. Turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely, then turn out onto baking paper sprinkled with caster sugar and peel off the lining paper. Meanwhile, in a bowl, add the cream and fold in the melted chocolate. Add the cocoa powder, icing sugar and ground cardamom and mix until well combined. Spread the cream mixture evenly onto the cake and then start to roll up the cake starting with one of the short edges and rolling tightly using the paper to help. Once rolled, leave in the fridge for an hour and then drizzle with melted chocolate, sprinkle over icing sugar and decorate with cherries or other seasonal fruit before serving.
Bernice Warner’s Boiled Fruit Cake
Warner is a chef lecturer at the school’s Nelson Mandela Bay campus and says this cake is always a hit with her guests and can be served with tea or coffee after lunch or dinner.
125ml water and extra if necessary
60ml dates, chopped
300g mixed dried fruit
60ml candied peel
60ml candied cherries
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
250ml cake flour
5ml mixed spice
½ tsp baking powder
Place water, margarine, sugar and dates in a pot and dissolve over low heat. Add mixed dried fruit and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring. Add rest of the fruit and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring. Remove and add bicarbonate of soda and then cool. Add eggs, sift in flour, spice and baking powder, and stir well. Bake for one hour at 180°C in 4 greased and floured mini loaf tins or a lined bread loaf tin. Cool thoroughly. Wrap and store in an airtight container for at least two weeks, sprinkling over a capful of brandy or rum every few days to keep it moist before serving. If you want, you can also cover it with marzipan or fondant and some Christmas baubles to give it that extra special festive look.