Making life easier one gingerbread man at a time

Every year I do some Christmas baking to give to friends and colleagues. This year I was planning on making the adorable mini gingerbread houses I saw on the Notmartha blog. That was, until I woke up on Sunday night in a cold sweat and came to my senses. I don’t even have time to vacuum the floors let alone construct a tiny town of houses made from dough. And I’m sure you know by now patience and a delicate touch are virtues I do not readily possess.

Enter the gingerbread men.

It was quite fun decorating them. The skeleton was my favourite but I can’t take credit for the idea, I found it on Google Images. I can however, take credit for the one that looks like it has one giant bulging eye and a rather confused look on its face. That was all me.

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A trifle over the top

I am making an effort to be more festive this year. The last few years I have bah-humbugged my way through the holidays only to suffer a longing for tinsel, weird Christmas lolly mixes and Kenny G’s Christmas Album once the event was all over. Dave and I have put up the tree, dusted off the iTunes Christmas carol playlist and I have been secretly sewing wonky stockings to fill with Christmas cheer. My plan was to sneak into the lounge on Christmas Eve to hang stockings on the fireplace and surprise Dave in the morning. Yesterday we were shopping and he picked up a Christmas stocking and told me he had a plan to sneak into the lounge on Christmas Eve to hang stockings on the fireplace and surprise me in the morning. I had to confess my plan then too, in case we both tried to sneak into the lounge room on Christmas Eve and someone ended up knocking the other one out with a frying pan, having mistaken them for an intruder.

My friends and I had a Christmas BBQ lunch on Sunday and I was allocated the task of bringing “a yummy dessert”. Immediately I began fantasising about Heston Blumenthal-inspired earth-shattering desserts with edible gold dust, whispers of delicate spun sugar and more scientific elements than an episode of Myth Busters. It’s quite typical of me to get carried away. Like when I decided to make about 8 different kinds of delicate little sweets for Christmas goody bags a few years ago, only to decide after the second sweet that I detested Christmas and everything it stood for. Delicate little sweets should be made by someone delicate and sweet, not someone clumsy and impatient with no sugar thermometer and a rather short fuse. What’s also typical of me is that while the resulting item may be edible, even quite good, rarely is it the thing of my fantasy and therefore I hate it and sulk and apologise to the recipient of my food for the monstrosity that I have bestowed upon them.

So this time I settled on a simple trifle. Only I wanted it to be spectacular.

Having never made and rarely eaten trifle and with no real recipe I embarked on my journey with visions of shimmering jellied cubes and delicate sponge layers and the ensuing ‘oooohhs’ and ‘aahhhs’ from my friends as I presented my dessert.

And I was triumphant. I was actually happy with the result and it actually looked like it did in my fantasy. I was going to make my own sponge but I’ve never made one before so I bought an unfilled sponge from the supermarket. I felt like I was cheating but I didn’t want to risk it. My Dad has attempted sponge cake twice in his life and on both occasions his sponges never rose to the occasion and they became known as the “Flattie Patties”. Bad sponge caking may be hereditary so I took the safe option, though I made up for it by making my own jelly and custard from scratch.

The trifle, in all its glory, had the following layers from bottom to top

Morello cherry jelly
Whipped cream
Sponge cake with black cherry jam
Vanilla custard
Morello cherries with cherry sauce
Sponge cake with black cherry jam
Whipped cream
Turkish delight martini jelly

It tasted good. Really good. And Dave’s observation that it was rich but still light is, I think, a winning combination for a dessert. I was also quite proud of the fact that it had an ‘overnight’ element (the jelly). After my post about not making recipes that require any overnight steps I decided it was time to get out of my comfort zone. Go me!

I also discovered some very handy hints:

  1. There is such a wonder in existence called microwave custard. I had no idea until I decided I needed custard about 30 minutes before we had to leave for the BBQ. Whisk 2 egg yolks with two tbsp of cornflour and a little milk to make a paste. Microwave 2 cups of milk and 2 tbsp of castor sugar in the microwave until it boils (it must boil to work). Quickly whisk into the egg yolk paste and add vanilla extract to taste. Voila – delicious custard in 5 minutes.
  2. Dental floss is the best thing for cutting sponge cake and jelly. I split the sponge in 2 and cubed the jelly with floss, holding one end in each hand and dragging it through the cake/jelly. I had great results and apparently it works well for cheese too.
  3. After a few glasses of vino, no one really cares that you didn’t make your own sponge.

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