Quince, Brandy and Walnut Trifle: A Twist on a Charlotta

For a new take on a classic Christmas dessert, make Georgina Hayden's Brandy, Quince and Walnut Trifle with a Cypriot twist.

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Introduction

This decadent, somewhat festive pudding is based on my mum’s charlotta, a Cypriot trifle made with sponge, chopped spoon sweets and custard. I’ve taken it a bit further by adding a couple of extra layers: poached fruit in jelly and a cream layer on top to make it even more of a showstopper. It would make a perfect pudding around Christmas, but shouldn’t be reserved only for the festive season. Replace the quince with pears or apples if you can’t get hold of them (see cooking instructions below). And adorn it as extravagantly as you wish.

Serves 12-16

Ingredients

2–3 quince (around 800g), or 800g pears
5 cloves
310g caster sugar
3 tbsp honey
1 lemon
400g plain sponge cake (homemade or shop-bought, whatever you like)
75ml brandy
50g spoon sweets (glyko), bergamot or citrus rind works well (optional)
8 gelatine leaves
800ml milk
4 large egg yolks
3 heaped tbsp cornflour
75g walnuts
sea salt flakes
400ml double cream

Essential kit

You will need: a 28cm-diameter serving bowl.

Instructions

Peel the quince and cut into 2cm wedges, cutting out the core. Place in a medium-sized saucepan with the cloves, 150g of the caster sugar, the honey and 750ml water (or just enough to cover). Peel in 2 strips of lemon peel and place on a medium heat. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and poach for 45 minutes, or until the quince is tender and cooked through. (Keep an eye on the water and top it up occasionally if needed.) If using pears, do exactly the same but poach for 12 minutes, or until just cooked through with a little bite still. Remove the fruit from the syrup and leave to cool completely. Keep the syrup to one side.

Cut the cake into 1½cm slices and line the bottom of a 28cm-diameter serving bowl. Drizzle the cake with the brandy and 3 tablespoons of the fruit poaching syrup. When the fruit is cooled, lay it over the soaked sponge. Finely chop the spoon sweets, if using, and scatter them over the top.

Measure out the poaching syrup, you should have around 500ml left. Top it up with water to make 800ml and pour back into the pan to warm through. Soak the gelatine leaves in a bowl of cold water for 5 minutes, then when they are softened squeeze out the excess water and whisk them into the warmed poaching syrup until totally dissolved. Leave to cool completely, then pour it over the soaked sponge and poached fruit. Cover the dish and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or until completely set.

When the sponge-jelly layer is set, make the crema (custard) layer. Fill your sink with a few inches of cold water. Heat the milk in a large saucepan over a medium-low heat until warm. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks with 60g of caster sugar and the cornflour. Finely grate in the remaining lemon zest. Pour a ladleful of the warmed milk onto the eggs and quickly whisk it in. Repeat with another ladle of milk until the mixture loosens. Pour the egg mixture into the pan of warmed milk and whisk constantly until thickened. You’ll need to be vigilant that it doesn’t overcook and scramble. Pour the crema through a sieve into a large mixing bowl and stand this in the cold water in the sink (making sure no water gets into the bowl!) until it has cooled completely. Whisk it as it is cooling down so that a skin doesn’t form. When it is completely cool, carefully pour it over the jelly layer. Cover the dish and put it back in the fridge to set.

To make the praline, preheat your oven to 180ºC/gas mark 4. Scatter the walnuts on a small baking tray or dish and place in the oven for 8 –10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Pour the remaining 100g of sugar into a large non-stick frying pan and place on a medium heat. Melt the sugar, swirling the pan as it melts, until it is completely molten and a deep caramel colour. Working quickly, scatter in the walnuts, crush in a pinch of salt and pour onto the greaseproof paper. Leave it to set.

When you are ready to serve the trifle, whisk the double cream until you have soft peaks, then spoon it over the set crema. Smash the walnut caramel in a pestle and mortar till you have a mixture of fine and coarse pieces and scatter over the cream (you’ll probably have extra, just save it to sprinkle over ice cream for another day). Serve straight away.

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