WELL then, here we go. The tumble towards Christmas begins, with its blend of twinkly lights, fragrant trees, overheated shops, non-stop Cliff Richard and military-style campaigns at the supermarket.
Where I can smugly sit by, patting my pile of already-wrapped Christmas presents, I realise that for some of you, especially those with families, time may be a little tighter and any shortcuts that can be made in the next few weeks will be gladly taken.
So for the next few Friday pieces I’ll be giving you a few ideas for recipes that can be made well in advance and forgotten about while you get down to all the important stuff like late-night shopping and organising the in-laws.
This week, we begin with a terrific chocolate dessert that you can make tomorrow, pop in the freezer and unveil 20 minutes before you eat it.
It’s a variation of the classic Italian semifreddo.
A rich, meringue-based frozen parfait that has a delightful dense, smooth texture, halfway between a mousse and an ice-cream, which, as the name implies, is at its best when served when just starting to defrost, so it’s still ice-cold, but smooth and creamy and spoonable.
My version crosses the Alps to the Black Forest, to take in the influence of Germany’s classic Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte.
This brilliant cake is one we’re all familiar with – layers of rich chocolate sponge, whipped cream and cherries; a more harmonious combination you’d be hard pressed to find.
So my semifreddo is a creamy chocolate mousse set on a crunchy base made with chocolate wafers and digestive biscuit, with a hidden layer of cherry jam, and we serve the dish in generous wedges with nothing more complicated than a dollop of whipped cream, some chocolate shavings and some preserved cherries.
These special Amarena cherries are my absolute favourites, small and sweet, but with a hint of tartness that stops them being cloying, and they sit in a clear deep purple syrup that’s the only sauce you need to finish off this dish in style.
They’re readily available in many supermarkets and deli-type shops, or online, and I implore you to try and find them – look for the pretty blue and white flowery jars and the name Fabbri, the producers of the best ones.
Otherwise, tinned cherries or even a home-made compote will be fine.
But as you’ll see, the crucial thing here is the ease of serving – you’ll have an easy, simple alternative to Christmas Pudding (I’ll belay my confusion here at why anyone doesn’t like Xmas Pud!) that can be made in an hour, and wrapped up tightly in the freezer, ready to be defrosted as you clear away the turkey plates.
It’s a real time-saver, and utterly luxurious.