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Pear and chocolate meringue

… but I defy anyone to have any patience whatsoever when putting this dessert together.

There was supposed to be grated orange zest scattered over the top. There was supposed to be vanilla scenting the whipped cream and roasted, chopped hazlenuts dotted throughout the mix. The chocolate sauce was supposed to be artfully drizzled, not dolloped on in an excited hurry of -oh-my-god-I-need-to-eat-this-NOW!

Clearly none of those things happened. In fact, I was in such an excited, giddy rush to eat this that when I transferred a slice to my plate, the meringue collapsed under the weight of that luscious chocolate-pear-cream combination and ended up looking like this:

pear and chocolate meringue

I’m happy to report that this didn’t affect the taste in any way, shape or form. But I did have a second slice, just to be sure 🙂

Tray-baked meringue with pears, cream, toasted hazlenuts and chocolate sauce from Jamie at Home by Jamie Oliver

Serves 6 to 8 people

You’ll need:

4 large egg whites
200g unrefined golden caster sugar
a pinch of sea salt
100g hazlenuts, skins removed
2 x 400g tins of halved pears, in syrup
optional: 2 pieces of stem ginger, thinly sliced
200g dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids)
400ml double cream
50g icing sugar, sifted
1 vanilla pod, halved and seeds scraped out
zest of 1 orange

1. Preheat your oven to 150C/300F/gas mark 2 and line a baking tray with a sheet of greaseproof paper.

2. Put your egg whites into a clean bowl, making sure there are absolutely no little pieces of egg shell or yolk in them. Whisk on a medium speed until the whites form firm peaks.

3. With the mixer still running, gradually add the sugar and the pinch of salt. Turn the mixer to the highest setting and whisk for about 7 or 8 minutes, until the meringue mixture is thick and glossy. To test whether it’s done, you can pinch some between your fingers – if it feels completely smooth, it’s ready; if it’s slightly granular then it needs a little more whisking.

4. Dot each corner of the greaseproof paper with a blob of meringue, then turn it over and stick it to the baking tray. Spoon the meringue out on to the paper. Using the back of the spoon, shape and swirl it into an A4-sized rectangle. Place in the oven and bake for 1 hour, or until crisp on the outside and a little soft and sticky inside. At the same time, bake the hazlenuts on a separate tray until golden brown (watch out – they burn easily).

5. Drain the tin of pears, reserving the syrup from one tin. Cut each pear half into three slices. Pour the pear syrup into a saucepan with the ginger and warm gently over a medium hear until it starts to simmer. Take off the heat and snap the chocolate into the saucepan, stirring with a spoon until it’s all melted.

6. Take the meringue and the hazlenuts out of the oven and leave to cool. Place the meringue on a nice rustic board or platter.

7. Whip the cream with the sifted icing sugar and the vanilla seeds until it forms smooth, soft peaks. Smash the toasted hazlenuts in a tea towel and sprinkle half of them over the top of the meringue.

8. Spoon half of the whipped cream over the top and drizzle with some of the chocolate sauce. (If the sauce has firmed up, melt it slightly by holding the saucepan over a large pan of boiling water.).

9. Divide most of the pear pieces evenly over the top. Pile over the rest of the whipped cream and pears. Drizzle with some more chocolate sauce, then sprinkle over the remaining toasted hazlenuts with some grated orange zest.

10. Serve straight away. Or eat leftovers for dinner the next day and don’t look at the bathroom scales. Ahem.

Cook’s notes

I didn’t have any tinned pears. So I poached some rock-hard little numbers that were just sitting and laughing at me from the fruit bowl – taunting me with the fact that one day soon they would just turn to mush without ever passing through a ‘ripe’ phase. Eddie Izzard has a joke about that somewhere…

Now, who wants to lick the bowl?

Who wants the last bit of meringue?

Chocolate bread and butter pudding

Sooooooo…. Delia – misunderstood genius of our times or completely barking bonkers? Somewhere in between? When is a shortcut a step too far? Latest pointless obsession of the chattering classes? Don’t know and don’t care?

I throw it open to the floor 🙂

In the midst of all this palaver, I thought I’d go for a bit of old-skool Delia with this chocolate bread and butter pudding, and try to remember why we all loved her in the first place. Personally, I miss that version of the lady. Maybe we could perform an intervention and get her exorcised of whatever evil spirit is possessing her right now. (Don’t anyone make a crack about that spirit being gin – I got there first.) 

Unfortunately, there are no pics of the cooked product as we had the in-laws round for tea and I got a little camera shy when they were here. So here’s the bread soaking up all that chocolatey, custardy, cinnamon-scented gorgeousness…

 Chocolate bread and butter pudding 

Chocolate bread and butter pudding from Delia’s Winter Collection by Delia Smith

You’ll need:

9 slices, each 1/4 thick, good-quality, 1-day-old taken from a large loaf.
150g dark chocolate (75% cocoa solids), chopped into smallish pieces
425ml whipping cream
4 tablespoons dark rum
110g caster sugar
75g butter
1/8th teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 large eggs
Double cream/icecream to serve

1. Butter an ovenproof dish 18 x 23cm and 5cm deep.

2. Remove the crusts from the slices of bread which should leave you with approx. 10cm squares. Cut each slice into four triangles.

3. Place the chocolate, cream, rum, sugar, butter and cinnamon in a bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Stir occasionally until the butter and chocolate have dissolved into the mixture. Remove from the heat and give it another really good stir.

4. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and then pour the chocolate mixture over them. Whisk again very thoroughly to blend them together.

5. Spoon about a 1cm layer of the chocolate mix into the base of the dish and arrange about half of the bread triangles over the chocolate in overlapping rows. Now pour half the remaining chocolate mixture over the bread as evenly as possible then arrange the rest of the triangles over that, finishing off with a layer of chocolate. Use a fork to press the bread gently down so that it get covered very evenly with the liquid as it cools.

6. Cover the dish with clingfilm and allow it to stand at room temperature for 2 hours before transferring it to the fridge for a minimum of 24 (but preferably 48) hours before cooking.

7. When you’re ready to cook the pudding, pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4 and bake on a high shelf for 30 to 35 minutes, by which time the top will be crunchy and the inside soft and squidgy.

8. Leave to stand for 10 minutes before serving with icecream/chilled double cream.

Cook’s notes

Now I come to think of it, this is sort-of convenience food. OK, You have to make it a bit ahead of time (I only managed 24 hours) but that bit of planning comes in handy because, come the day and the hour, all you have to do is shove it in the oven and forget about it for half an hour.

‘Are you enjoying your meal?’ asked Victor.

‘Yes – I am. I really am,’ came my slightly tipsy reply. ‘I’ve had a cr@p day at work, perhaps the cr@ppiest ever. But this meal is making up for it beautifully, thank you.’

Victor looked at me. He doesn’t know me from Adam but I was quite clearly telling the truth. So he decided to take pity on me.

‘Well, seeing as it’s been that bad… What do you prefer? Red or white?’

‘Uuuurm. Red’ (I said I was a bit tipsy – it took a little longer than usual to remember.)

At this point, I was digging my way happily through dessert – a large slab of cassata siciliana, a sponge cake/ricotta/dried fruit combination, soaked in Maraschino liqueur (you’d think I’d had enough alcohol, but no) and topped off with bright green marzipan and creme fraiche on the side. It satisfied both my love of kitsch (bright green marzipan? c’mon…) and delicious puddings.

Back came Victor from the bar with a glass containing what has to be the best red dessert wine I have ever tasted in my life. Although that wouldn’t take much. Red dessert wine normally means port and that’s a bit too heavy for me, so I tend to avoid it. But this stuff…

‘It tastes like raisins… Or cherries! It’s so smooth! What is it?’ (That’s about as Jilly Goulden as I get.)

The wine that was dancing around on my tastebuds (Casa Roma – Rabosa Piave) turned out to have been produced by the Peruzzetto brothers in the Piave region of Italy – and they’re one of the very few left who use that particular grape (rabosa nero). It’s been aged in oak for a couple of years, which means that the tanins have mellowed out (according to Victor) and given it that smooth, rounded taste. If you’re a wine buff then this won’t be news but it really was the first time that I ‘got’ what that last sentence means.

The brothers Peruzzetto mainly supply America and just one restaurant in the UK – the one I was sitting in.

Centotre opened on George Street, Edinburgh a couple of years ago and has been busy ever since to much acclaim. Victor is Victor Contini, who you’ll usually find chatting away to old friends and strangers alike, making everyone feel welcome and comfortable. He runs the place with his wife Carina, and together they set out to provide Italian food made from the best possible produce. They’re so committed to doing it properly that they take a weekly delivery of goods from Milan and they know all their producers well. It probably also helps that they’re part of the family which runs the famous Valvona and Crolla delicatessen on Leith Walk. They know their onions. They know their pasta. And they certainly know how to run a successful restaurant.

So the quality of that dessert wine and the support of the small producer was no suprise – it completely fits in with the Contini ethos that runs through everything they do. But it’s not about swanky pretentious ‘oooh daaaarling, you must simply try this fabulous little wine I picked up in the Veneto, very exclusive’. It’s about ‘there you go, try this – we think you’ll like it because it tastes good.’ And if you ask where it came from, they’ll tell you, without any faff or snobbery. I’m so glad I asked. It turns out Luigi Peruzzetto is more than happy to show visitors around his vineyard, if you’re in the area. Personally, that’s unlikely to be any time soon but I’m filing that information away under ‘one day when I win the lottery’.

I realise I’ve completely ignored my starter and main course so far, which isn’t right as they were both excellent. Bruschetta with a winning combination of creamy mozzarella, salty/spiky anchovies and peppery rocket. I wolfed that down in a very unlady-like way – but rocket is very difficult to eat politely, so I just got stuck in. Toothsome orecchiette pasta with peppercorn-studded Italian sausage, broccoli, Provola di Bufula, chillies and garlic. Simple ingredients put together with little fuss. What’s not to like?

Rolling home happily starched-up and sated, I found out that Victor and Carina are going to open another Edinburgh restaurant soon – Zanzero in the New Town – thank you trusty eating and drinking guide from The List. Apparently, it’s going to be up and running in late May 2007. Hmmmm. Hope I get a chance to try it before moving to Ireland… If not, what a great excuse to come back.

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I'm short of stature (a family trait) but big of appetite (also a family trait). If you're reading this then you're probably big of appetite too. Or a member of my family (hello Mum).
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