Join the sugar rush: Life is sweeter with Skye Gyngell's gorgeous treats

There's nothing like a sweet treat to keep you going on a chilly day, says Skye Gyngell

Desserts are almost more important during winter than at any other time of year. Very often in the heat of the summer I don't feel like eating much at all – a simple salad does for lunch – but in winter I can get ravenous, craving a sweet treat more than anything else. Like many others, I try to resist high-calorie puddings as much as possible, but my resolve is weak and too often I give in.

We immediately associate certain desserts – such as the comforting bread and butter pudding I have made here – with winter. While others, such as panna cotta, are not so obvious, that's not to say they're any less delicious or moreish. At Petersham, we have sorbet on the menu throughout the winter (I think ice-creams and sorbets eaten in the depths of winter somehow make it feel less cold outside). But if that seems too much of a chilling prospect... well, I'm sure my deliciously dense chocolate cake won't fail to warm you up.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627, www.petershamnurseries.com

Rich chocolate cake

Serves 10

130g/4oz unsalted butter
140g/41/2oz caster sugar
7 eggs, separated
150g/5oz dark chocolate, grated
150g/5oz ground almonds

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4. Butter a 20cm (8in) round cake tin and line with baking paper. Cream the butter and sugar until pale then add the egg yolks one by one. In a separate bowl, combine the grated chocolate and almonds and add the butter mixture. Next, beat the egg whites in a different bowl until soft peaks form, and fold into the mixture. Pour into the cake tin. Stand the tin in a large oven tray and pour in enough hot water to come two-thirds up the sides. Place on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 50-60 minutes until the cake tests clean when you slide in a sharp knife. Cool in the tin before turning out. Serve either on its own or, as I do, with a large dollop of Jersey cream.

Panna cotta with caramel and blood orange

Serves 4

For the caramel

250g/8oz caster sugar
125ml/4fl oz water
250ml/8fl oz water to finish
A pinch of sea salt

For the panna cotta

250ml/8fl oz double cream
185ml/61/2fl oz whole milk
1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise
100g/31/2oz caster sugar
2 sheets of medium-strength gelatine or 11/2 teaspoons of powdered gelatine

To serve

4 blood oranges

Start by making the caramel. Place the sugar and 125ml of water into a small pan. Place over a low heat to dissolve the sugar, stirring with a wooden spoon for a minute. Once the sugar has dissolved turn the heat to high and cook without stirring until it is a rich dark caramel. Remove from the heat and immediately pour in the second lot of water. Add the salt and return to the stove and cook over a low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon for a minute or so. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Now place the cream, milk, vanilla pod and sugar into a heavy pan over a low heat and bring to a gentle simmer. Stir to help dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat, and set aside to infuse for 20 minutes.

In the meantime immerse the gelatine sheets in a bowl of cold water and leave to soften for five minutes. If using powdered gelatine, follow the on-pack instructions.

Return the infused mixture to the stove over a low heat to warm through. Remove the gelatine from the water, squeezing out any excess, then add to the warm cream. Stir to dissolve. Strain into a jug and pour into four dariole moulds and allow to cool to room temperature. Place in the fridge for at least two hours.

To serve, dip each mould into warm water for a second or two to loosen the edges, then invert on to a plate.

Remove the skin from the oranges, slice into pin wheels and arrange round the panna cotta. Spoon over the caramel and serve.

Bread and butter pudding

Serves 6-8

1 tbsp apricot liqueur
A small handfuls of sultanas
150g/5oz caster sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
300ml/10fl oz double cream
300ml/10fl oz whole milk
8 thin slices of white bread, crusts removed
60g/21/2oz unsalted butter, softened
Pouring cream, to serve

Heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4. Now warm the apricot liqueur slightly over a low heat in a small heavy-based pan. Place in a small bowl and pour over the sultanas. Leave to steep while you prepare the other ingredients.

Make the custard by placing the sugar and eggs in a bowl, along with the vanilla extract and whisk together until pale and creamy. Add the cream and milk and stir to combine. Pass through a fine sieve into a jug.

Butter the bread on one side and layer the slices in a medium-sized, ovenproof dish with the macerated sultanas scattered in-between. Pour over the custard and leave to stand for 15 minutes.

Stand the dish in a large oven tray and pour in enough water to come halfway up the sides. Carefully place in the hot oven and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Serve with the pouring cream.

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