Festive mess with mulled wine berries

 

The aroma of mulled wine is so evocative of Christmas. When I was thinking of ideas for a festive pud recently, it occurred to me that mulled wine would be the perfect way to transform an otherwise rather summery dessert into something a little more Christmassy.

Eton mess does really have summer written all over it, doesn’t it? Usually a mixture of strawberries, cream and pieces of meringue, it  has traditionally been served at Eton College’s annual cricket game against Harrow since the 19th century.

In this version I have used a mixture of frozen ‘winter berries’ from the supermarket – in this case blackberries, blackcurrants, cherries and grapes – and cooked them gently in a thick mulled wine syrup before combining with the cream and homemade meringue, flavoured with a little ginger. Take it from me, it tastes and smells divine. I was a little worried it might be a bit ‘grown up’ for my two daughters but they both chomped their way through it gleefully, and the oldest even had seconds.

Festive mess with mulled wine berries

For the meringue:

3 egg whites
pinch of salt
175g caster sugar
1tsp corn flour
1tsp ground ginger
½tsp vanilla extract

NB This recipe makes about double the amount of meringue you’ll need for the dish, but I’m sure you’ll find another way to use up the leftover!

For the mulled red wine berries:

150ml red wine
½ stick cinnamon
5 cloves
zest of 1 orange
100g caster sugar
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
300g frozen mixed winter berries

250g whipping cream
2tbsp icing sugar

First of all, make the meringue. If you don’t have an Aga, preheat the oven to 150ºC / gas mark 2.

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites and salt until stiff. Gradually whisk in the caster sugar a teaspoonful at a time, and finally whisk in the corn flour, ground ginger and vanilla. Lay a sheet of silicone paper on a baking tray and spread the meringue mixture out onto the sheet to create a large rectangle.

If you have an Aga, put the baking tray on the floor of the roasting oven for three to four minutes, until the meringue is ever so slightly coloured. Then move down to the floor of the simmering oven for about an hour until the meringue is firm on the outside but gooey in the middle.

If you’re using a conventional oven, bake for an hour and then turn the oven off. Open the door halfway and allow the meringue to cool to remove to room temperature before removing.

Now it’s time to move on to the mulled wine syrup.

Pour the wine into a saucepan and place over a medium heat. Add the cinnamon, cloves, orange, sugar and nutmeg and stir well. Allow to simmer for around 10 to 15 minutes until the wine has reduced a little and has more of a sticky syrup consistency. The smell in your kitchen by now will be amazing!

Next add in the frozen fruit, stirring gently, and cook on a low heat until the fruit has defrosted and cooked down a little. But don’t cook so long it turns into a mush; it’s good to have some texture and bite in the fruit. Once the fruit is cooked, leave to one side to cool.

In a large bowl, whip the cream until it forms soft peaks and gently stir in the icing sugar.

When the mulled wine berries have cooled, stir these into the whipped cream (reserving a little of the syrup), along with broken pieces of meringue. Serve immediately and finish off with a little drizzle of the mulled wine syrup. Enjoy your delicious bowlful of festive cheer!

Blackberry and cardamom pavlova

I’m spending much less time in the kitchen these days. At the beginning of September I started working in-house four days a week covering someone’s maternity leave, which means evening meals need to be quick and easy as I really don’t want to be slaving over a hot stove for hours when I get home.

So more leisurely, experimental cooking has been relegated to the weekends for now. It’s tricky though, as obviously weekends are also now my main family time. However, this beautiful blackberry and cardamom pavlova was the perfect way to bring family and cooking time together.

We all spent a splendid Sunday afternoon traipsing over the fields near our home in Somerset, hunting for blackberries and sloes (they’re still sat in the fridge waiting to be added to gin) and trying not to get stung as inevitably the plumpest, juiciest berries are always the ones obscured behind a clump of nettles. When Jess and Mia tired of picking blackberries, they ran around pretending to be galloping horses while Jason and I finished the job.

Normally the first thing I make with blackberries would be a blackberry and apple crumble. But since we only had a disappointing six apples off our tree this year I decided to try something new. I’ve been meaning to have a go at making meringue for ages – I know how embarrassing is that, a food blogger who’s never baked a meringue? Particularly because we have an Aga and as all Aga owners will tell you, they are perfect for baking meringues. So the idea of a blackberry pavlova came to mind.

I found a recipe for a blackberry cardamom pavlova from Adventures in Cooking and came up with my own a slightly simplified version. The combination of blackberries and cardamom is absolutely inspired. The spicy, perfumed flavour works incredibly well with the sticky, juicy fruit, cutting through the richness of the cream so the end result doesn’t end up being too heavy. Which of course means it’s absolutely fine to have a second helping.

I was so surprised at just how easy meringues are to make, especially with a little help from Aga Queen, Mary Berry. As with most baking, it’s more about setting aside enough time to do it properly, than about the recipe being all that complicated to make. I baked my meringue the evening before, so all I had to do on Sunday after we’d picked the blackberries was to whip up the cream and make the blackberry sauce.

Blackberry and cardamom pavlova

For the meringue:

3 egg whites
pinch of salt
175g caster sugar
1tsp corn flour
1tsp ground cardamom
½tsp vanilla extract

For the blackberry topping:

450g blackberries
120g sugar
2tbsp honey
juice and zest of half a lemon
½tsp ground cinnamon

For the blackberry and cardamom cream:

300ml whipping cream
60g icing sugar
½tsp ground cardamom
zest of half a lemon
1tbsp blackberry topping (above)
1tsp vanilla extract

Plus another handful of blackberries to garnish

If you don’t have an Aga, preheat the oven to 150ºC / gas mark 2.

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites and salt until stiff. Gradually whisk in the caster sugar a teaspoonful at a time, and finally whisk in the corn flour, ground cardamom and vanilla. Lay a sheet of silicone paper on a baking tray and spread the meringue mixture onto the sheet, forming a circular shape. Build up the sides of the circle to create a well in the middle to hold the cream and fruit later.

If you have an Aga, put the baking tray on the floor of the roasting oven for three to four minutes, until the meringue is ever so slightly coloured. Then move down to the floor of the simmering oven for about an hour until the meringue is firm on the outside but gooey in the middle.

If you’re using a conventional oven, bake for an hour and then turn the oven off. Open the door halfway and allow the meringue to cool to remove to room temperature before removing.

To make the blackberry topping, place the berries, sugar and honey in a saucepan over a medium heat and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Scoop out a large spoonful of blackberries and set aside for later. Continue to simmer gently for about 45 minutes, stirring regularly. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice, zest and cinnamon. Allow to cool before chilling in the fridge.

And then to make the blackberry and cardamom whipped cream, pour the cream into a large bowl and add the icing sugar and cardamom. Whip until it forms soft peaks. Gently fold in the spoonful of blackberry topping set aside earlier, along with the lemon zest and vanilla extract. Chill in the fridge until you are ready to assemble.

Place the meringue on a serving plate and pile the blackberry and cardamom whipped cream in the well. Cover this with the blackberry topping and arrange some fresh blackberries around the edge. Serve at once. Enjoy!

PS Tomorrow I’m off to the MAD Blog Awards ceremony in London. I’m a finalist in the MADs Best Food Blog category and I’m really rather excited. I don’t have a chance of winning as I’m up against some splendid food bloggers who’ve been doing this much longer than me, but I’m just so chuffed at making the finals. If you voted for me – then thank you! And I’ll let you know next week how I got on…