Monday 25 December 2023

Christmas Cranberry & Clementine Trifle

Is this becoming an all-trifle blog? It's certainly looking that way at this point! I've seen a couple of people talking about A Return To Blogging as the newsletter sites and various microblogging sites that shall remain nameless aren't very satisfactory, but I am not willing to commit to any regularity. For one thing, I'm not doing much interesting cooking at the moment, and not really paying enough attention to it to write about it.

This trifle, however, was a grand project and the result was worthy of recording. I took my inspiration from the Cosmopolitan, which is a great drink even if it is out of fashion, and is very Christmassy with the cranberries and lovely winter citrus.

We had a big family Christmas lunch on Christmas Eve (big, for our purposes, is any more than the two of us and in this case was 7 adults and a 2 week old baby) and I muscled my way into bringing the dessert. Not that it took a whole lot of convincing; Paul's family insist he keep me around for my cooking.

It was constructed over 3 days, but that was a very unpressured approach which left me feeling fairly relaxed about everything. Other than the usual worries about whether the jelly would be rubbery, the creme diplomat ropy, the curd curdled, the sponge cracked, the cream split. But no time crunch. I thoroughly recommend only being responsible for one element of Christmas dinner, if you can possibly manage it.

Day 1

Groceries arrive. My preferred brand of eggs were unavailable but an alternative high-welfare option was provided, so that was OK. Everything else was supplied in the quantities ordered so I didn't have to risk going to the shops.

First thing was making cranberry and clementine curd. I reserved some of the prettiest cranberries for crystallising. I followed Nigella Lawson's recipe for cranberry curd in How to be a Domestic Goddess (very straightforward, uses whole eggs because I knew I was going to have eggwhites left from other elements and didn't want to have a freezer full of eggwhites) but I reduced the amount of sugar considerably (from 500g to 350g), substituted the juice of a clementine for some of the water and added the finely grated zest of the clementine. I also didn't entirely trust myself to recognise "cook until thickened" but various places around the internet agreed that 77C is about the right point, so I used the thermometer. Gorgeous colour, silky smooth and it set beautifully.

Glorious colour

Next up, I candied the zest of a clementine. I blanched the shreds twice, then made a syrup of 50g each of sugar and water and simmered the zest in that for 5 minutes (by which time they were almost transparent) before lifting them out and spreading them out to dry. When they were almost dry I tossed them in some caster sugar and left them on some baking parchment until they were completely dry and a bit crispy.

Then the jelly. I used a 330ml bottle of unsweetened, 100% cranberry juice and made it up to 450ml with the juice of the clementine I had zested to candy, and some homemade bergamotcello. The bergamotcello is a lot less sugary than bought limoncello, so I added the syrup the zest had candied in and then some sugar to taste - keeping it very tangy to balance the richer, sweeter elements. I heated it gently until the sugar had dissolved and then added 4 bloomed gelatine sheets.

While the jelly was cooling, I zested 2 more clementines and reserved the zest for Day 2, and peeled the membrane from the clementine segments. Usually I would cut citrus into supremes but I think clementines are too delicate for that sort of manhandling, so I blanched them in boiling water, refreshed them and peeled the membranes off. It was a real faff and they broke up into smaller chunks but worth it for the final result of little pops of juicy acidity. I stirred them through the cooling jelly and poured it into the trifle bowl to chill overnight.

This year I have seen a few trifles where the jelly is a bottom layer with the cake either in a layer over it, or, as I ended up doing, a row around the edge of the bowl on top of the jelly - it makes the cake less soggy, which is the biggest complaint among trifle naysayers, but also it keeps the pattern clean, if you use a rolled cake. Now I have decided that this is the way to go for the future, I might even contemplate doing a joconde collar with a stencilled design or some such elaborate nonsense down the track.

Day 2

I planned things around just having a couple of tasks in the afternoon, because I had an optometrist's appointment in the middle of the day.

Creme patissiere, made with the reserved zest from the two clementines, and a splash of vanilla and a splash of fiori di Sicilia, clingfilm pressed directly onto the surface and allowed to cool, then chill. The recipe I use contained 4 eggyolks, so I froze 3 of the whites and the 4th I reserved.

For the cake, I made it to Nicola Lamb's Buche de Noel recipe but with additional flour substituted for the cocoa, and the grated zest of a clementine (reserving the zested fruit for day 3) and a teaspoon of fiori di Sicilia added for flavour. My aunt gave me the fiori di Sicilia as a gift a couple of months ago and it was quite a process to actually get it to me, so I am busting it out wherever possible. When cool, I filled the cake with the cranberry curd, rolled it up, wrapped it in clingfilm and put it in the fridge.

I crystallised the reserved cranberries by lightly beating the reserved eggwhite, tossing the cranberries in the eggwhite then into some caster sugar before spreading out on baking parchment to dry. While they were drying I dusted them very lightly with some edible lustre dust for a bit of extra bling because honestly more is more with a trifle.

Day 3

First thing I sliced the cake, and was very pleased to see pretty defined swirls. Also, I had a piece and it tasted really good, always a bonus.

I put slices of the cake around the edge of the trifle dish, pushing them slightly into the jelly layer for stability, then I warmed some Corsican clementine jam and thinned it with a splash more bergamotcello and brushed it over the top and inside layer of the cake slices, and spread the last spoonful thinly over the surface of the jelly.

I bloomed some more sheets of gelatine and dissolved them in the juice of the reserved clementine from day 2. This was an expensive bag of fruit and I wanted to use every bit of them, OK? Then I whipped cream with the dissolved gelatine and folded it through the creme patissiere to make a creme diplomat. I scraped it into the middle of the cake border and nudged it down to mostly fill the gaps. Then it went back into the fridge to set while I had a shower and got dressed etc. 

Finally, just before we left to go to lunch, I whipped some plain double cream, not too much, because I have some family members who don't love too much cream, and then garnished wantonly, with some ridiculously blingy metallic cachous, the crystallised zest and cranberries, then another sprinkle of the cachous to fill in any bare patches.

It was very well received and I was extremely pleased with it. It tasted as good as it looked! Lots of different textures, different expressions of the cranberry and clementine flavours, all playing very well together. There was only a small quantity leftover for our host to have as her Christmas breakfast.

Merry Christmas, to all who celebrate.


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