Sweet Treats

Eloise’s Whisky Truffles

Simple and thoroughly decadent, these wonderful French-style truffles are a chocoholic’s dream come true. 

The ultimate bittersweet nibble, these truffles work well as a final flourish to a dinner party with a glass of cognac, port or even as a sneaky chocolate treat to be had when nobody’s looking.

I first had these truffles many years ago when I moved to Cape Town. My dear friend Eloise made them for me once as a thank you gift for inviting her family to dinner one evening. As it was the first time I had met her she was blissfully unaware that I’m lactose intolerant so I just passed the thoughtful gift on to my partner (who is a chocolate-fiend of note) and didn’t think about them until the next day.

As it turned out, the truffles weren’t to my partner’s taste at all as they weren’t as sweet as he would have liked. More surprisingly, however, they turned out to be right up my street! I’m not normally a ‘sweet’ person, but every now and again there are exceptions to the rule and these are most certainly that – exceptional!

Bitter, sweet and with a hint of whisky; these little chocolate gems are most definitely worth the consequences of lactose intolerance and that’s not something I say lightly.

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Peppermint Crisp Tart

Peppermint Crisp TartEverybody knows the best way to a South African man’s heart is through a braai. However, to get him in touch with his inner soul, you need to feed him some Peppermint Crisp Tart! I don’t know what it is about this simple dessert, but seems to have a profound affect on most South Africans, inducing bouts of childhood nostalgia with every bite and even the odd misty eye (they aren’t crying of course, its just that pesky braai-smoke).

Sometimes referred to as a Fridge Tart and occasionally as a Transkei Mud Pie, Peppermint Crisp Tart was arguably the South African dessert of choice in the 80’s and early 90’s. The very definition of a store-cupboard dessert, it was originally made with Orly Whip (a long-life non-diary cream substitute) instead of cream, meaning you literally did not have to buy anything fresh to make the tart – you could whip it up in 15 minutes, pop it into the fridge to set and voilà: dessert bliss!

Today Peppermint Crisp Tart jostles with the mighty Malva Pudding for the title of South Africa’s favourite traditional dessert and whilst Malva Pudding may have a greater claim to that crown, Peppermint Crisp Tart must come a very close second. The key to Peppermint Crisp Tart’s enduring appeal is its convenience. All you need to make it are: 4 ingredients, a bowl, a whisk, a dish and a fridge – you can’t get easier than that!

Now I won’t lie to you, South African’s love their desserts jaw-achingly sweet and Peppermint Crisp Tart is no different – this stuff is not for the faint of heart! I’m not the biggest fan of desserts, but even I can’t resist indulging in a small portion of this decadent dessert. Why? Because, to put it mildly, Peppermint Crisp Tart is AMAZING! Something rather magical happens to the ingredients as the tart sets in the fridge, creating a masterpiece of dessert decadence that needs to be tasted to be believed.

Is it refined? No.

Is it subtle? Most definitely not.

Is it the greatest 4 ingredient, non-cook dessert ever conceived? Quite frickin’ possibly.

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Traditional English Scones

Who doesn’t love a good scone?

The quintessential English tea-time nibble, scones always go down well and are the prefect example of how a few basic pantry staples can unite to form a delectable baked treat!

Essentially made with just flour, butter, milk and raising agents, scones are the very definition of effortless baking, but like so much in life, such simplicity belies grave pitfalls. Firstly, do not over work the dough – you want your scones to be as light and fluffy as possible, so a gentle touch is best. Secondly (and perhaps most importantly), sconesTraditional English Scones should always be served fresh, preferably straight out of the oven. If you must reheat your scones, then you should only ever do so in a pre-heated oven and NEVER the microwave. If you are ever tempted to use your microwave to reheat your scones, don’t – they will rebel by abandoning their light texture and will become rubbery. Yuck.

I have a dear friend who adores her scones and always orders them when we go out for tea, but not before she interrogates the waitron about their scone-etiquette. The interrogation usually goes along the lines of, “Are your scones good? Are they fresh? When exactly were they made? How do you re-heat them?”. If there is no mention of a microwave then the poor waitron has survived the interrogation and their scones have been deemed worthy. It may seem pedantic to ask so many questions about a simple scone, but many a good scone has been ruined by shoddy and hasty reheating, so it never hurts to ask, lest you be disappointed.

One of the other reasons I love scones is the minimal effort they take to make. Baking does not come naturally to me, so I don’t really like recipes that are too involved or complicated, which makes whipping up a batch of scones an absolute delight and perfect for my limited skill-set. The mixing and kneading takes virtually no time at all and the scones are, more often than not, ready for baking before the oven has had time to heat up. Now that’s my kind of baking!

When it comes to what you should serve with your scones, I’m afraid I am an unabashed traditionalist. For me scones should only ever be served with good strawberry jam, butter and clotted cream, but the latter is quite hard to source outside the UK so I normally settle for just the jam and butter.

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Dulce de Leche Creme Caramel

Dulce de Leche Creme CaramelThe epitome of 80s vogue, everybody over a certain age will remember when Creme Caramel was très chic and the dessert of choice at only the most discerning dinner parties. Sadly, along with the likes of Baked Alaska, Creme Caramel has gone the way of the Prawn Cocktail – largely relegated to dubious theme nights and the occasional bout of culinary nostalgia.

Thankfully though, Creme Caramel’s resurrection is at hand. These days there’s a fine line between passé and retro-revival and by simply adding a de rigueur ingredient like dulce de leche, suddenly Creme Caramel has renewed appeal and relevance. From tired to trending with one simple twist on a worn classic!

For a “classic” dessert, this recipe is surprisingly cheap to make. Other than the dulce de leche, most of the ingredients are pantry staples: milk, eggs and sugar. All in all, it’s a pretty impressive dessert for not a lot of money! A veritable institution in South America, dulce de leche isn’t always readily available in South Africa, but you can substitute it with something like Nestlé’s Caramel Treat instead.

Creme Caramel also has an undeserved reputation for being difficult to make, but this couldn’t be further from the truth! Okay, admittedly the recipe looks complicated, but other than the “tempering” the recipe is actually very straight forward. As much as I would love to completely dispel the myth of how tricky it is to make Creme Caramel, I don’t think it’s something we should be shouting from the rooftops. A good dose of culinary kudos is never a bad thing and there’s nothing better than hearing your guests exclaim, “Wait, you actually made this? It’s amazing!”.

Yes, did…and yes it is! Kudos indeed.

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Dulce de Leche Creme Caramel: Serves 4

  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1.25 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup dulce de leche (or Nestlé Caramel Treat)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (or essence)

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 160C.
  2. In a small saucepan combine sugar and water
  3. Bring sugar to a boil and cook over medium heat until sugar turns a golden caramel color – this should take about 7-10 minutes
  4. Divide the caramel into four 180ml ramekins, coating the bottom of each ramekin – set ramekins aside
  5. In a saucepan, combine milk, dulce de leche and salt.
  6. Cook over medium heat, whisking until the mixture is smooth and just comes to a simmer
  7. Whisk the eggs, egg yolks and vanilla in a medium bowl
  8. When the milk reaches a simmer, take it off the heat and temper the eggs by very slowly pouring the milk into the eggs, all the while whisking furiously. If you are nervous about tempering, rather whisk in the milk, a few tablespoons at a time to ensure that the mixture doesn’t curdle
  9. Strain mixture into a large measuring cup or bowl with a pouring spout
  10. Put a kettle onto boil
  11. Arrange prepared ramekins in a 9×13-inch baking dish
  12. Divide custard mixture evenly into the ramekins
  13. Place baking dish into oven and carefully pour in the freshly boiled water until the water reaches about halfway up the sides of the ramekins
  14. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until just set
  15. Remove the ramekins from the water and allow to cool to room temperature
  16. Cover with cling wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or overnight

To Serve:

  1. Run a sharp knife around the edge of each ramekin
  2. Place the ramekins in the same baking tray from the day before, add some hot water and allow to stand for a minute
  3. Place a serving plate over the ramekin and invert so that the creme caramel will slide out

Pumpkin Fritters (Pampoenkoekies)

Pumpkin Fritters (Pampoenkoekies)I know they may sound a little weird to the uninitiated, but pumpkin fritters are absolutely delicious!

Enjoyed either as a light snack or side dish to a traditional boerekos spread, these little South African delights are very easy to make, are surprisingly healthy and always go down a treat.

Naturally sweet, they are a great way to dupe vegetable-phobic youngsters into eating one of their “5-a-day”. When lightly sprinkled with cinnamon sugar however, they make a great sweet treat that are impossible to resist!

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If you would like to read more about South African food please follow this link or for more South African recipes, please click here

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Chocolate Parfait with Pecan Crumbs

Chocolate Parfait I have had more than my fair share of doomed desserts. In fact given the choice, I would happily forgo them completely, or buy-in something instead. I am, however, not a dessert person: never have been, never will be. I would rather have a starter for a “pudding” than a crème brûlée, but I’m in the minority; understandably most dinner guests expect a sweet treat to end their meal, not another bowl of French onion soup! Like any good host I like to give my guests what they want, so I’ve taught myself a few special desserts to cater to their not-unreasonable dining expectations.

Which brings me to this particular recipe – chocolate parfait. In my relatively limited arsenal of dessert recipes, this is possibly my favourite. Part ice-cream, part semifreddo; chocolate parfait is entirely appealing but without the hassle of either. Unlike ice-cream, parfait requires no churning or special equipment. Elegant enough to impress, virtually impossible to stuff-up and always deliciously moreish; chocolate parfait is a dessert coup!

Paired with pecan crumbs, whipped cream and a coulis, this dessert is so delicious even I am tempted to scoff a slice!

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Gerry’s Homemade Rusks

Gerry's Homemade RusksWhen I first arrived in South Africa I was completely unprepared for the local obsession with rusks. To my mind, and to most non-South Africans, a rusk is a dry, hard baby biscuit, designed to aid teething – not very appealing. Confused as to why everyone was eating baby biscuits, I soon discovered that rusks here are something altogether different. They are still slightly dry and hard, but they are all about comfort-snacking and dunking. Rusks are South Africa’s biscotti and to my mind nobody makes them better than my dear friend Gerry.

Always made with love, Gerry’s recipe strikes the right balance between comfort and decadence: this recipe is rusk perfection. Although traditionally served with hot coffee, these rusk are so good I can happily forgo the dunking altogether and eat them straight out of the tin!

As for South Africa’s obsession with rusks? Thanks to Gerry’s I get it now, I totally do.

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If you would like to read more about South African food please follow this link or for more South African recipes, please click here

Click here for the recipe

Shortbread

ShortbreadTo my mind, of all the sweet treats my mother made when I was young, shortbread always seemed the most luxurious and perhaps surprisingly, the most “exotic”. Set against the kaleidoscope of Malaysian desserts that I grew up with, shortbread seemed the epitome of Western refinement – something the lords and ladies of Windsor would perhaps nibble on, whilst sipping on their Earl Grey at teatime. In a childhood saturated with deep-fried bananas and glutinous purple layer-cakes, there was something about the buttery simplicity of shortbread that echoed a colonial restraint that appealed to my early sense of identity. That my mother made very good shortbread, made me feel different; it, in part, made me feel just a wee bit more British.

The secret to my mother’s shortbread is, however, an altogether un-British Asian ingredient: rice flour. This elevates the shortbread to another level; giving it an amazing texture and makes for an even crisper biscuit bite.

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Note: Try to use rice flour sourced from an Asian supplier rather than from a health shop as the former seems to be finer and gives a better finish.

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Chocolate Brownies

Chocolate Brownies

These brownies have served me well over the years; gooey and ridiculously rich, they’re irresistibly moreish! Frankly, I don’t understand why people don’t make brownies more often; they are so easy to throw together and always go down a treat, especially with kids.

Utterly delicious but devastating on the hips, this recipes makes quite a few brownies and invariably I end up giving most of them away to friends and random neighbours. I do this not out of generosity, but out of fear of my expanding waistline! Normally I can exercise admirable control when resisting sweet temptations, but with these, I turn into a brownie munchin’ fiend!

There is nothing pretentious about this recipe; this is easy-baking, that makes for great eating.

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Passionfruit Curd

Prior to moving to Cape Town I had only ever eaten passionfruit once before, at great expense, while living in the London. I chanced upon these purple piquant wonders in an up-market Food Hall and I just had to know what passionfruit really tasted like. At £1.50 a fruit my knees buckled at the price, but I just had to know. Gripped by curiosity, I dug deep and bought two. At the time it was money I could ill-afford to spend, especially on luxury fruit, but to my mind it was money well spent! Eating my first passionfruit was a moment my taste buds will never forget, it was as if they had awoken for the first time. In a word: electric.

Passionfruit CurdSo it was with much excitement that I discovered that my new garden came with its very own granadilla (passionfruit) plant. I tried to grow one in my old garden in Cape Town but without much success. So, our expectations were high as we eagerly waited the start of the fruiting season. I had hoped to get a couple of fruit a day, enough for the two of us to enjoy as a daily tangy treat. Little did I know what a prolific season awaited us, within weeks it began to rain granadillas! At the peak of the season, we were collecting between 10 and 15 granadillas a day and I soon found myself with a glut of these purple delights. It didn’t take long before I had run out of ideas of what to do with them.

With my granadillas mounting, I trawled through my cookbooks for ideas and found a recipe in Nigella’s “How to be a Domestic Goddess”. It was prefect, it combined two of my favourite things; curd and passionfruit! I had never tried passionfruit curd before, but being an avid childhood fan of the lemon variety, I figured “Why not?”. The curd took a while to make, but the results were sensational. Not since my first taste of passionfruit had my taste buds experienced such a wake up call. These days they may not cost me a dime, but made into a curd, passionfruit still makes me curl my toes and roll my eyes in delight. After all these years, it still tastes electric.

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