Oh crumbs!


The first time I hear Darlene Love singing "Baby Please Come Home" on Phil Spector's Christmas album each year, my eyes fill with tears of sympathy. By the 20th time I am thinking "either go and find the guy, or shut up". It is the Christmas syndrome, and by now, even the divinely boozy Christmas cake and pudding are included.

In fact I prefer Christmas cake and pudding at the leftover stage. The combination of dried vine fruits soaked in brandy and rum, candied peel, and spices and nuts amounts to distilled essence of Christmas, and be it cake or pudding, panettone, stollen or mince pies, every one succeeds in whipping up a frenzy of nostalgia.

This is heady, concentrated material that is superb for other puddings, and easy puddings at that. A creamy custard in one guise or another is the secret, to gently blanket the sweetness of all that dried fruit. But it must be rich - something sumptuous like a sabayon or zabaglione, or a vanilla egg-custard with cream added. The "lite" approach of serving whipped cream with fromage frais added simply doesn't work.

Panettone is such a good idea for the base for a bread and butter pudding that I hear people fighting over who thought of it first. Fry chunks of panettone in butter until they are golden and arrange them in a shallow oven-proof dish, then whisk together 2 eggs, 4oz caster sugar and 9fl oz each of double cream and milk, and a little fruit eau-de-vie or brandy. Pass this custard-base through a seive, pouring it over the panettone. Bake for 30-35 minutes at 180C (fan oven)/190C (electric oven)/375F/gas mark 5.

This is my favourite treatment for any leftover Christmas pudding too. There is no need to fry it, just break it up and arrange it in the gratin dish, about 12oz of pudding for the above quantity of custard. Once it is cooked let it cool for ten minutes and settle down to that precariously wobbly consistency.

I have never quite got the point of Lebkuchen, the toothsome honey-sweetened gingerbread, unless it is to hang them on the Christmas tree. But they are transformed if you dunk them into a sweet or fortified wine, backed up with some clementines, lychees and Cape gooseberries. Be warned that the sugar-covered varieties dissolve in the liquor, so plain ones are best. Lebkuchen can also replace sponge biscuits for an excellent tiramisu. As can Christmas cake for that matter. In both cases use some rum or brandy blended with a fruit syrup instead of coffee. Christmas cake is also a good foundation for a trifle, you can really go to town with the sherry, and use up some of the fruits in brandy that you may have been given. There is no need for additional jam, just a deep bank of thick, rich, vanilla custard.

Stollen comes as the greatest surprise - the marzipan version that is. I was quite bowled over by the result of frying it in butter on all sides until toasted - the marzipan layer turned into warm, soft almond fudge - far preferable to eating it raw. Serve this piping hot out of the frying pan with ice-cream melting over it.

No doubt, come next December, I will once again be feeling sym pathetic towards Darlene. And no doubt looking forward to that first mouthful of cake. Or is it the leftovers?

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