Desserts of Christmas past

I’ve written many recipes for Christmas pudding alternatives over the years – some light and fresh, others rich and indulgent, but always deliciously festive. Here I’ve gathered together some of my favourites for you to try this holiday season.

Christmas cake

A couple of years ago I shared my family Christmas cake recipe, full of whisky-soaked fruit, spicy stem ginger and crunchy walnuts. The secret to getting the perfect moist texture is partly in the preparation – check out my step-by-step guide to lining the tin before you start.

Yule logs

Of course, the most traditional Christmas pudding alternative is the yule log. If you fancy “a bit of a project”, my New Forest Roulade is almost an illusion cake, especially if you accessorize it with gingerbread porcini mushrooms, oak leaf tuilles and marzipan acorns.

Alternatively, this hazelnut meringue roulade is a little less involved, but still eye-catching. Make the chocolate crème patisserie a couple of days in advance and roll the roulade the day before to leave you hassle-free on Christmas day. This dessert is completely gluten-free.

Hazelnut, chocolate + orange meringue roulade

Serves 8

For the meringue:

  • 5 large egg whites
  • a pinch cream of tartar
  • 275 g light soft brown sugar
  • 125 g toasted ground hazelnuts

For the chocolate crème patissiere:

  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 100 g caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 25 g cornflour
  • 500 ml whole milk
  • 150 g dark chocolate (minimum 60% cocoa solids), chopped
  • 40 g butter

For filling and topping:

  • 400 ml double cream
  • 1 orange, zest finely grated
  • 2 tbsp orange liqueur
  • 2 tbsp icing sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 50 g toasted hazelnuts, chopped
  • 50 g candied orange peel, chopped
  • chocolate holly leaves and caramelised hazelnuts, to decorate
  1. Make the chocolate crème patisserie in advance. Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar, cocoa and cornflour until smoothly combined. Heat the milk in a saucepan until it just starts to simmer, then slowly incorporate it into the egg mix, whisking constantly.
  2. Scrape the custard mixture back into the saucepan, then stir over a low heat until it just starts to simmer. Take the pan off the heat, tip in the chopped chocolate and butter, then stir until melted and smooth. Scrape the custard into a bowl, press a sheet of clingfilm onto the surface to stop a skin from forming, then leave to cool before chilling in the fridge.
  3. To make the meringue, preheat the oven to 200°C (180 fan) / gas 6 and line a 25 cm x 35 cm Swiss roll tin with baking parchment.
  4. Using an electric whisk, whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar until they form stiff peaks. Gradually add the soft brown sugar, then continue to whisk for 5 minutes or until the meringue is very stiff and shiny. Carefully fold in the ground hazelnuts, retaining as much volume as possible, then scrape the mixture into the prepared tin and level the surface.
  5. Bake the meringue for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 180°C (160 fan) / gas 4 and bake for another 10 minutes. Run a knife round the outside of the tin to loosen the meringue, then turn it out onto a large sheet of baking parchment sprinkled with icing sugar. Peel off and discard the lining paper and leave to cool.
  6. Meanwhile, whip the double cream with the orange zest, liqueur and icing sugar until it holds its shape.
  7. When the meringue has cooled, spread or pipe the top with a layer of chocolate crème patisserie, then add a layer of orange cream, keeping some back to attach the decorations. Sprinkle the top with chopped hazelnuts and candied peel.
  8. Turn the meringue so that one of the short sides is facing you, then use the baking parchment to help you roll it away into a tight roulade. Wrap firmly in the baking parchment and chill in the fridge for at least an hour or overnight.
  9. When you’re ready to serve, unwrap and transfer the roulade to a serving plate. Use the rest of the orange cream to attach the chocolate holly leaves and caramelised hazelnuts.

To make the chocolate holly leaves, wash and thoroughly dry 10 – 12 holly leaves. Melt 50 g of dark chocolate in the microwave or a bain marie. Paint one side of the leaves with melted chocolate, then leave to set on a tray lined with baking paper in the fridge for 10 minutes. Add a second layer of chocolate, then return to the fridge for 20 minutes. Carefully peel away and discard the holly leaves, being careful not to snap the chocolate or melt it with warm fingers. Store the chocolate leaves in the fridge unless you’re ready to serve.

To make the caramelised hazelnuts, put 75g of granulated sugar in a small saucepan. Heat it gently until it starts to liquify round the edges. Continue to heat without stirring, swirling the pan occasionally, until all the sugar is liquid and it turns a rich caramel colour. Take the pan off the heat and add 20 – 30 toasted hazelnuts. Stir until well coated, then tip them out onto a piece of baking parchment and separate with two forks, being very careful not to get any molten caramel on your skin. Store in an airtight box in a cool dry place until you’re ready to decorate the roulade.

Chocolate desserts

If you don’t fancy the idea of rolling a roulade, but you’d still like something rich and chocolatey for dessert, I’ve got you covered.

Chocolate, clementine and walnut delice

This recipe combines classic stocking-filler flavours to create an elegant end to the meal. Everything can be made a few days in advance and it also freezes successfully if you really want to get ahead. If you’re nervous about making the walnut praline base, use a biscuit base recipe and add some ground walnuts instead.

Serves 10

  • 175 g granulated sugar
  • 175 g walnut halves
  • 125 g cornflakes, crushed
  • 2 large eggs
  • 275 ml double cream
  • 265 ml whole milk
  • 2 tbsp runny honey
  • 5 clementines, zest finely grated, fruit reserved
  • 400 g good quality 70% cocoa dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 pomegranate, seeds only
  1. Put the granulated sugar in a medium saucepan and shake gently to level the surface. Set the pan over a medium-low heat. When the sugar starts to melt round the outside, swirl the pan gently. Continue to heat, swirling occasionally, until all the sugar has liquified and the caramel turns golden brown. Take the pan off the heat and carefully dip ten of the walnut halves with two forks. Space them out on a non-stick baking mat.
  2. If the caramel in the pan has started to set, warm it gently again over the hob, then tip in the rest of the walnut halves and stir to coat. Quickly scrape the caramelised walnuts onto a second non-stick mat and spread them out a bit. Leave to cool completely.
  3. Store the individually dipped walnuts in an airtight box until you’re ready to serve. Transfer the rest of the walnut praline to a food processor and blend to a paste. If the mixture will only go to fine crumbs, add a teaspoon or two of boiling water and blend again, but stop before the oil separates from the walnuts. Scrape the paste into a bowl and work in the cornflakes until evenly mixed. Put a 25 cm x 15 cm rectangular cake ring onto a non-stick baking sheet that will fit in the fridge, then press the base mixture firmly into an even layer.
  4. Lightly beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl and set aside. Put the cream, milk, honey and clementine zest in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Pour the mixture through a fine sieve onto the eggs, whisking all the time (an extra pair of hands is useful here!). As soon as it has been incorporated, add the chopped chocolate and fold it gently together with a spatula, stopping as soon as there are no streaks remaining. Scrape the chocolate mixture onto the base and level the top, then leave to set in the fridge overnight.
  5. Peel the clementines and slice them horizontally, then store in a plastic box in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.
  6. Carefully remove the metal frame from the outside of the delice. Cut the delice into 2.5 cm fingers, dipping a long knife in hot water and drying it thoroughly before each slice. Top each portion with a caramelised walnut half and serve with a few slices of clementine and a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds.

Winter in the Black Forest

This fatless chocolate cake has a tendency to sink a bit as it cools, but fear not: whipped cream will hide a multitude of sins! The cake, trees and cherries can be made a few days in advance if kept in air-tight containers, then just assemble it all the night before or on Christmas morning. If you don’t fancy making the chocolate trees, decorate the sides of the cake with chocolate sprinkles in true 1980s style.

Serves 8 – 10

  • 100 g dark chocolate
  • 8 – 10 fresh cherries with stalks
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • a pinch of cream of tartar
  • 75 g caster sugar
  • 75 g soft light brown sugar
  • 60 g unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 400 g fresh black cherries or bottled morello cherries
  • 1 jar wild cherry plum jam
  • ½ tsp almond essence
  • 3 tbsp sloe gin
  • 600 ml double cream
  1. First make the chocolate trees. Melt the chocolate in a bain marie or microwave, then spoon it into a piping bag. Pipe tree shapes onto acetate or silicone paper, then leave to set completely at room temperature. Dip the whole cherries into any remaining chocolate and leave to set.
  2. To make the sponge, preheat the oven to 180⁰C (160⁰ fan) / gas 4 and grease and line a deep 20 cm round cake tin with greaseproof paper. Whisk the egg whites with the cream of tartar until they form stiff peaks, making sure the bowl and whisk are completely grease free.
  3. Put the two sugars in a separate bowl with the egg yolks and whisk for 3 minutes or until very light and creamy. Sieve over the cocoa powder and spoon the egg whites on top, then fold everything together until evenly mixed, being careful to retain as much air as possible.
  4. Scrape the mixture into the cake tin and level the top, then bake for 40 – 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool completely in the tin.
  5. If you’re using fresh cherries, halve them and remove the stones; if they’re bottled, drain them of their syrup. Put the cherries in a small saucepan with half of the jam and the almond essence. Heat gently, stirring occasionally, until the jam melts and starts to bubble. Leave to cool, then pass through a sieve, storing the cherries and syrup separately.
  6. On the day, cut the cake across horizontally into three even layers. Stir the sloe gin into 3 tbsp of the reserved cherry syrup and whip the double cream until spreadable. Position the first cake layer on a cake stand and drizzle over a little of the syrup. Spread with half of the rest of the jam and dot over half of the cherries, then cover with a quarter of the cream. Repeat to form a second layer, then lay the final slice of cake on top.
  7. Use the rest of the cream to cover the top and sides of the cake, smoothing it over with a palette knife. Carefully peel the chocolate trees away from the acetate and press them into the cream around the edge, then arrange the chocolate-dipped cherries on top.

Pudding-shaped puddings

If it just doesn’t feel like Christmas lunch without a sweet dome-shaped centrepiece, here are a couple of alternatives.

Gluten-free clementine Christmas pudding

This pretty pudding has a wonderfully moist texture and a great depth of flavour from the clementines and ginger. When the cooking time is up, turn off the stove and it will happily sit there in the steamer keeping warm for another hour if you’re running behind. Serve with custard, pouring cream or even blood orange sorbet.

Serves 6 – 8

  • 300 g golden caster sugar
  • 225 g butter
  • 6 – 7 clementines
  • 3 large eggs
  • 50 g stem ginger, finely chopped
  • 125 g quick-cook polenta
  • 250 g ground almonds
  • 50 g cornflour
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 3 tbsp marmalade
  • 2 tbsp syrup from the stem ginger jar
  1. Butter a large pudding basin and put a steamer on to heat.
  2. Put 100 g of the sugar in a saucepan and heat gently until it starts to turn to liquid around the edges. Continue to heat, swirling the pan occasionally, until all of the sugar crystals have melted and the caramel turns a rich golden brown. Stir in 25 g of the butter, then pour the mixture into the pudding basin.
  3. Use a fine grater to zest the clementines and reserve for the cake mixture. Peel the clementines, then cut each one across into 4 slices. Arrange the slices inside the pudding basin, ensuring there are as few gaps as possible.
  4. Cream the rest of the butter and sugar together until smooth and pale. Lightly beat the eggs with the clementine zest and stem ginger, then gradually beat them into the butter and sugar mixture. Mix the polenta with the ground almonds, cornflour, ground ginger and baking powder, then add it slowly to the mix, stopping as soon as everything is smoothly combined.
  5. Scrape the mixture into the pudding basin, being careful not to dislodge the clementine slices. Make a pleat in a large sheet of greaseproof paper, then tie it onto the basin with string and make a handle so that it’s easier to lift in and out.
  6. Steam the pudding for 2 hours 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
  7. Heat the marmalade and ginger syrup in a small saucepan then sieve it to remove any zest. Turn the pudding out onto a serving plate, then brush it all over with the marmalade glaze.

Christmas Cake Baked Alaska

There’s something a bit magical about baked Alaska; seeing the snowy mounds come out of the oven, then discovering the still-frozen ice cream within. The trick is to pre-scoop the ice cream, then re-freeze the balls so that they’re very cold and hard before you start. You can also make this post-Christmas with leftover Christmas pudding, if there is such a thing in your house.

Serves 6

  • 500 ml pot salted caramel ice cream
  • 6 x 1 cm slices fruit cake
  • 240 g caster sugar
  • 4 large egg whites
  1. Leave the ice cream to soften a little, then scoop 6 balls onto a baking tray. Transfer the tray to the freezer and freeze until very hard.
  2. Cut each slice of cake into a square or a circle and lay them on a baking tray.
  3. Preheat the oven to 200⁰C (180⁰C fan) / gas 6. Line a roasting tin with greaseproof paper and spread the sugar out on top. Transfer the tray to the oven for 8 minutes to heat the sugar.
  4. When the sugar has been heating for 5 minutes, put the egg whites in a free-standing food mixer and use the whisk attachment to whip them until foamy. With the whisk still running, pour in the hot sugar in a steady stream.
  5. Whisk the meringue on high speed for 10 minutes or until it has cooled to room temperature. Increase the oven temperature to 220⁰C (200⁰C fan) / gas 8.
  6. Remove the ice cream balls from the freezer and sit each one on top of a slice of cake. Use a palette knife to completely enclose the ice cream and sides of the cake in a thick layer of meringue.
  7. Transfer the tray to the oven and bake for 3 – 4 minutes to toast the outside of the meringue. Serve immediately.


I love a trifle at Christmas, and while there will always be trifle-haters, a Boxing Day buffet just isn’t complete without one. They are also the most portable of all Christmas desserts, which is handy if the big day is at someone else’s house and you’re travelling by car.

Clementine and cranberry trifle

Trifle flavours don’t get much more festive than clementine and cranberry! Make it the day before and store in the fridge overnight for a fully fuss-free pud.

Serves 8 – 10

  • 8 seedless clementines
  • 280 g madeira cake, cubed
  • 6 tbsp Cointreau
  • 250 g fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 150 g caster sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick, halved
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp cornflour
  • 600 ml double cream
  • 1 vanilla pod, halved lengthways
  • 2 tbsp dried cranberries
  • 2 tbsp candied orange peel, chopped
  • 2 tbsp slivered pistachio nuts
  1. Cut the tops and bottoms off of six of the clementines, then stand them on one of the cut sides and slice away the peel and pith in strips down the sides. Slice each clementine across onto 4 or 5 rounds, then arrange them around the inside of a trifle bowl, pressing them against the sides.
  2. Finely grate the zest of the remaining two clementines and squeeze the juice, then stir the Cointreau into the juice. Tip the cake cubes into the centre of the trifle bowl and spread out into an even layer. Drizzle the Cointreau mixture over the top.
  3. Put the cranberries in a saucepan with half of the sugar, the cinnamon sticks, clementine zest and 2 tbsp of water. Cover and cook over a low heat for 6 – 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries have started to burst and soften. Discard the cinnamon and spoon the cranberries and cooking liquor over the cake.
  4. Whisk the egg yolks with the cornflour and the rest of the sugar until pale and thick. Scrape out the seeds from the vanilla pod and put them in a small saucepan with half the cream. Heat the cream until almost at simmering point, then whisk it into the egg mixture. Transfer the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over a low heat, stirring continuously until the custard thickens, then pour it into the trifle bowl. Leave to cool to room temperature
  5. Whip the rest of the cream until thick and dollopy, then spoon it over the custard and chill in the fridge until ready to serve. Sprinkle the cranberries, candied peel and pistachios over the top just before serving to prevent the nuts from going soft.

Gingerbread and apple trifle

Indulge your guests with layers of spicy ginger cake, tart apple compote and silky-smooth cider syllabub. The compote can be made up to a week in advance and any excess makes a delicious breakfast with yoghurt and granola. The syllabub is quicker and easier to make than the traditional layers of custard and whipped cream and the finished trifle actually benefits from being made a day or two in advance.

Serves 8

  • 2 large Bramley apples, peeled cored and diced
  • 4 ripe pears, peeled, cored and diced
  • 275 ml medium-dry cider
  • 35 ml ginger liqueur
  • 50 g honey
  • ½ lemon, juiced
  • 600 ml double cream
  • 2 x 350 g ginger cake
  • 2 tbsp gold crunch
  1. Put the chopped apple and pear in a saucepan with 100 ml of the cider. Cover and cook over a low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it has broken down into a thick compote. Taste and adjust the sweetness with honey if preferred, then leave to cool.
  2. To make the syllabub, whisk the remaining 175 ml of cider with the ginger liqueur, honey and lemon juice until smooth. Gradually whisk in the double cream and continue to whip until the mixture holds its shape.
  3. Cut the cakes horizontally into 1 cm thick slices and use a small man-shaped cutter to cut out as many gingerbread men as you can. Crumble the rest of the cake and tip half of it into a trifle bowl, levelling the top. Arrange the ginger cake men round the edge of the bowl.
  4. Spoon in a layer of compote, followed by a layer of syllabub. Add the rest of the cake crumbs, leaving a small border round the edge, then continue the layers, finishing with syllabub on the top. Chill until you’re ready to serve, then add a final flourish of gold crunch.

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