Chocolate Mousse Trifle


Merry post Christmas and Happy New 2016! I hope you had a fantastic festive season and aren’t planning to punish yourselves in anyway with month long detoxes or exclusions? You can drink a wee bit less or eat more vegan food any time you know. A pissing wet January weekend isn’t my moment to have a major life change, but I guess everyone’s different…

My big difference this Christmas was that I didn’t cook. I ate some excellent food but for once I allowed other people to cook for me. And it was absolutely wonderful.

My lovely friends went out of their way to welcome me to their homes and tables over the holidays and make food I could eat and make no fuss when there was something I couldn’t. As a result I enjoyed each and every time I ate and felt more treated and spoiled than if I’d been plied with gifts.

This was my first Christmas in England and I decided to go the whole hog and do as many firsts as possible and try as much new stuff as I could. I ate my first blini, drank my first Baileys, ate Brussel sprouts and pigs in blankets with Christmas dinner, had a snowball and the big one, made and ate my first ever trifle.

I have always loathed the idea of trifle. Technically I have never loathed trifle because I have never eaten trifle until last week. It’s not something we do in our family and frankly, I’ve always found it rather English.

My only childhood experience of trifle were terrifying ready made Dale Farm ones made of lurid jelly, cryogenically suspended tinned fruit and squirty cream begging to be put out of its mercy. Other Northern Irish children of the Eighties probably remember these in Crazy Prices or Stewarts too. I believe one was supposed to wash it down with some of that day glo orange squash children were practically weaned on in those days since it came in milk bottles beside your daily pinta.

I never touched them no matter how rude it made me look when I went to friends’ houses for tea after school. Luckily most adults were so tickled by a small child refusing sugar that they forgot to tell my parents what a precocious brat I was. Once I got to secondary school, trifle just seemed to vanish out of my life and I’ve avoided it ever since.

Listening to this Radio 4 programme with Tim Hayward before Christmas was my equivalent of watching a horror film. I ducked beneath the bed covers at least once as they discussed jelly and declared myself trifle-phobic.

Then it all happened. My friends who I was joining for Christmas dinner asked me to bring a dessert. I decided to make a version of this chocolate prune cake but with chestnut puree instead of dried fruit. This was my no cooking Christmas after all and that cake is so simple you can make and bake it in under an hour.

But what you can’t do at 1am on the morning of Christmas Eve is take it out of a bundt tin without it breaking into moussey hunks of panic on your kitchen worktops. Emergency Googling told me you have two options with a broken cake: cake pops or trifle.

And when you’ve got Christmas Eve plans involving prosecco and good jamon and better manners than turning up to Christmas lunch with no desert, you go with trifle.

One swift trip to Tesco Express later and I had the makings of a chocolate mousse trifle. I would layer the sliced cake up and pour raspberry coulis and fresh raspberries over it, add homemade chocolate mousse, more raspberries and whipped cream and it would all be fine.

Apart from the fact a trifle-hater doesn’t usually have anything they can make trifle for 6 people in and carry it around the corner with ease. Which is how I found myself making a bucket of trifle in a Tupperware container big enough to bath a baby, but yet easy to transport.

This actually make enough trifle for 16 people so it was going to be too weird to excuse myself from eating my own dessert. I dug in and told myself it wasn’t really trifle because the cake hadn’t been moistened but was meant to be like that.

And it was delicious. Incredibly ridiculously rich. But delicious. Turns out I’m not trifle-phobic. I’m just fussy. But you probably all knew that anyway…

Chocolate Mousse Trifle (serves an even dozen at least)

For the cake:

  • 400g dark chocolate
  • 200g chestnut puree
  • 175g butter
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 6 egg whites
  • 3 tablespoons icing sugar

For the mousse:

  • 400g milk chocolate
  • 175g butter
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 6 egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the trifle:

  • 350g raspberry puree
  • 200g fresh raspberries
  • 500ml double cream

You could of course just make the cake or the mousse and not bugger either of them up and serve them separately. But if I’d done that I wouldn’t have had an amusing anecdote or a blog post.

Grease and flour a 9 inch cake tin. You can use a bundt if you want to save on some of the effort of slicing, but a standard tin is fine. Heat the oven to 175℃.

Make a bain marie by placing a large bowl over a pan of water on the cooker, making sure the water doesn’t touch the base of the bowl. Melt the chocolate, chestnut puree and butter together in this. Separate the eggs and set aside.

Once the chocolate is melted, take it off the heat and set carefully into a sink of cold water to cool. Beat the egg whites with the icing sugar until stiff peaks and set aside.

Take the chocolate out of the water and beat each egg yolk into it one at a time with your electric whisk to add lots of air. Then fold in the egg whites a third at a time.

Pour the mix into your cake tin and bake for 40-45 minutes. The cake will rise massively in the oven so allow breathing space. Once the top is slightly cracked and light in colour, take out and let it cool on a wire rack.

Make the raspberry puree by blitzing either defrosted raspberries or fresh ones with a tablespoon of icing sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice and set set aside.

Slice the cooled cake and layer into a trifle bowl (or enormous tupperware container.) Pour the raspberry puree over it and add about half the raspberries. Allow to sit while you make the mousse. You could use that bottle of Chambord you have knocking round instead if you prefer.

Set up up your bain marie again and melt the chocolate and butter together. Separate the eggs and cool the melted chocolate well. You do not want scrambled egg while you’re making trifle (obviously I got it on Christmas Eve and just carried on anyway.)

Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks with a pinch of salt and set aside. Add the vanilla extract and beat each egg yolk in one at a time and then fold in the egg whites a third at a time.

Pour over the cake and raspberry puree and chill for 4 hours or overnight. About an hour before serving whip the double cream and spread on top of the set mousse and decorate with the remaining fresh raspberries. Serve and convert all the trifle haters and jelly doubters!


brixton black cake

Brixton Black Cake

brixton black cake

Are you suddenly panicking that you haven’t got a Christmas cake? What if I told you that you could still make a homemade one and it’ll probably be the best you’ve ever eaten?

Here’s a recipe for a black cake which is a traditional Caribbean fruit cake made from dried fruit soaked in rum and then pureed up to make a moist textured cake. I soaked my fruit for 3 months but even 24-48 hours will be extraordinary. My cheat is to use tinned prunes for added moisture in the cake.

Adapted from Nigella’s recipe via Laurie Colwin, I baked several of these this year and was told it was better than a friend’s Jamaican granny’s cake so I’m feeling pretty damned smug about it. It doesn’t need decorating or icing or anything so you can soak the fruit today and make this over the weekend and impress everyone.

Originally published at Brixton Blog….

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confit potatoes

Slow Cooker Confit Potatoes

confit potatoesUntil I got my new cooker earlier this year with its top oven, I’ve always had that dilemma when doing a roast dinner about how you balance different timings and temperatures for potatoes and meat. And since I got the new cooker, I just haven’t made a roast dinner…

But at Christmas you often don’t have enough roasting tins, eyes on the clock and hands to co-ordinate it all and I wondered if there was a way to give you great potatoes with minimum fuss.

After reading Felicity Cloake doing ‘perfect’ fondant potatoes in the Guardian recently, I decided that they were definitely not what I was looking for since most of them looked stressful in the extreme, but I wondered if I could do a version in the slow cooker?

Life is too short to melt enough butter for that though and duck fat is always on offer around the festive season, so I thought I’d basically confit some baby potatoes instead and see what happened.

And spoiler alert: good things happened. I mean, I know it would be tricky to make something bad with duck fat and spuds, but these were really good. Softer and richer than a roastie and so easy. 5 hours in the slow cooker and 5 minutes in a frying pan. Sea salt scattered over them to serve. Potato filled silence at the table as people ate them. Could be just what you need at Christmas…

Slow Cooker Confit Potatoes (serves 4)

  • 250ml duck fat (or olive oil if veggie)
  • 500g baby potatoes
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)
  • sea salt

There’s barely a recipe for this but I like writing so I’m sure I’ll spin it out. Put the whole baby potatoes in the slow cooker crock. I used 500g in a 3.5 litre slow cooker which was one layer but you could double the amounts and do two layers.

Melt the duck fat in the microwave for about 50 seconds (minus the lid) so it’s liquid and pour it over the potatoes so they are covered. Don’t worry if the very tips aren’t. Add the fresh thyme if using.

Put the lid on the slow cooker and cook the potatoes on high for 5 hours. They will wrinkle and darken as they cook but hold their shape. Don’t be tempted to give them longer to be sure they are cooked. Potatoes cook surprisingly quickly in a slow cooker.

Use a slotted spoon to scoop them out onto a plate lined with kitchen roll. You can leave them to cool up to overnight if needed or pop them into a hot frying pan immediately. Keep the potatoes moving as if sauteeing them and give them a few minutes until crisped on the outside. Serve as soon as possible, making sure you pour the duck fat back into its container while it’s still liquid.

The potatoes actually don’t absorb very much of the fat but cooking them this way makes them the richest tastiest steamed potato you can imagine which, whisper it, makes a lovely change from roast potatoes in this season of repeat roast dinners.


steamed pastelle

Trinidad Pastelles for Christmas

steamed pastelleI’ve been working on several pieces for the Brixton Blog over the last few weeks about what different cultures and nationalities do for Christmas and my attention was particularly drawn to pastelles from Trinidad as these parcels of filled cornmeal steamed in a banana leaf sounded like the perfect way to try out my new electric steamer-slow cooker in style. I’ve also always wanted to use banana leaves and I’d never seen them until now to buy. If you can’t get them, then wrap your pastelles in greaseproof paper instead. These are traditionally eaten on Christmas Day but I think they’d be a great way to use leftovers in style so I’m publishing the recipe today so you can buy cornmeal alongside your Big Shop you’ll be doing later…

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Two very different Christmas leftover soups


Happy New Year! Well, that’s Christmas over for another year. The tree’s gone, the decorations are down, and the last hints of spice in the air are fading fast. Miss South and I made the most of the season in our respective locations… both making Christmas puddings for the first time; cooking up a great main meal and seasonal accompaniments; and getting creative with leftovers. After all, getting good mileage from leftovers is one of the best things about the holiday season, isn’t it?

Here are two recipes for Christmas leftover soups, based on main dishes we’ve previously posted about over Christmas. Both have proved their worth (and have been road-tested with others) and provide a good way of taking your leftovers in a different direction. After all, If you’re going to splash out on a large cut of meat, make sure you make the most of everything around it… from boiling liquid to bones. You can’t beat a warming soup in winter: it’s the best form of central heating around, and a great way to make ingredients and flavours go a bit further. Whether it’s a thick, hearty black pea and spiced beef soup, or the exotic joys of a fragranced Vietnamese-style pho bo, you should find something to whet your appetite.

Black pea and spiced beef broth (serves 6-8)

Black pea & spiced beef soup

Although it’s not based on a traditional recipe, this is a very northern dish in heritage and at heart. It’s got mixed Irish and Lancashire parentage, but I reckon a variation on this would feel equally at home in large swathes of Nordic or Eastern Europe too. It’d certainly keep the cold at bay. The spiced beef I used here followed our previously published recipe, which was based on Niamh Shields’. It’s established itself as a family tradition over the last three years!

We’re predisposed to pair pulses and pork on the blog as they’re natural BFFs, but here the sensuous spiced notes and savoury stock of the beef and its broth work really well with the dusky black peas* (not black-eyed peas).

Miss South and I first experienced black peas, parkin and cinder toffee on Bonfire night on a farm above Rochdale in the mid 1990s; that combination of frosty air and scaldingly-hot peas was a happy and formative memory for us both. When I moved to Manchester a few years later I visited Bury market and enjoyed the pleasures of a styrofoam cup of peas and black pudding on a winter morning (tip: you can fashion a spoon from a black pud link by biting the end off strategically).

Dried black peas

*Black peas (aka maple or pigeon peas) are a bit of a rarity outside of East Lancs and the South Pennines, and I’m conscious many readers might not’ve heard of them before. They’re delicious, and deserve to be better known. They’re on sale just over the West Yorkshire border here in Todmorden around Bonfire Night, but you might struggle to get them out of season, never mind outside the region. Even most of my books on regional British specialities (Andrew Webb, David Mabey, Laura Mason & Catherine Brown etc) don’t mention them; and while Mark Hix does in ‘British Regional Food’, he mentions the Lancashire black or parched pea alongside a differently cooked Lenten ‘carling’ or ‘carlin’ from Tyneside and the North East. (if you want to know much more about black peas, I’d suggest this well-researched and comprehensive piece here).


  • 1 fresh chilli
  • 1 red onion
  • 2 litres stock / liquid from boiling the spiced beef brisket
  • 250g dried black peas (you can substitute with marrowfat or other dried peas, but the taste is quite different)
  • 6 medium sized potatoes (I used Maris Pipers)
  • (optional) salt and pepper to taste
  • A sprinkle of finely sliced beef per person
  • A dollop of sour cream

This recipe assumes you’ve cooked the spiced beef already. Ensure you retain all the liquid you’ve boiled the beef in: it should last, properly covered in a cool place, for a few days. You may want to strain it through a fine sieve or some muslin, as you’ll likely get some bits from the ground spices at the bottom of the pan.

Start the day before, by soaking the black peas in a large bowl, covered in water with plenty of room for them to swell up. Add a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda to help soften them. Leave the peas to soak overnight. In the morning, rinse them well.

I had around 3 litres of stock from boiling up the spiced beef: I reduced this by a third so it was more intense. It was quite savoury; with the sugar, salt and spices really coming through strongly. I was concerned it’d be too strong, but those wee peas soak up liquid and flavour.

Cover the previously-drained peas with fresh cold water, bring to the boil and then boil hard for 10 minutes, before simmering for a further 30 minutes. Meanwhile sauté the finely chopped red onion and chilli slowly in a heavy-based pan, so it softens and starts to melt down.

Rather than continue to simmer the beans on the hob, I decided to make the soup itself in the slow cooker, but you could easily keep it in a pan. However making meltingly soft black peas is particularly good in the slow cooker as it’s self-contained and cheap as chips to run for hours. I left everything bubble for a few hours, then threw in the peeled, chopped potatoes for 30 minutes. Once they’d softened and cooked, I used a hand blender to process the soup, keeping it rough and textured rather than a smooth purée. Another 20 or so minutes just to soften everything down, and it’s ready to ladle into bowls.

Ideally serve with a dollop of soured cream, and sprinkle with chopped matchsticks of the leftover spiced beef on top. Garnish with some finely chopped chives or some flat-leaf parsley for a dash of colour.

Pho bo (generously serves 4)

Home-made pho bo

My first taste of a decent pho was when Miss South took me to one of the Vietnamese places on the Kingsland Road in London about ten years ago. I’d heard it was one of the best breakfasts known to mankind, and I was smitten on the first slurp. I’ve been going to Vnam Café on Oldham Road in Manchester since it opened to get my hit in the north, but making your own is extremely satisfying, and a great way to get the most from beef bones. In fact this was so good we made it twice within the space of a fortnight last Christmas (as my girlfriend and I had two family Christmas meals; one in Manchester, the other in Belfast). Both times we used beef forerib which we’d roasted as a joint for the main meal. This is the kind of recipe which can certainly improve with specialist ingredients, such as Thai basil, but we didn’t adhere strictly to this prescribed recipe either time, and it tasted fantastic. I’d defy anyone to turn their nose up at this after a night on the tiles over the Christmas period. Just don’t plan a big lunch if you have it for breakfast…

It’s based on this recipe which I suggest you follow; I’ve added some personal notes below. I’ve enjoyed Andrea Nguyen’s Viet World Kitchen blog for years, but it was her recipe for pho which prompted me to finally buy her wonderful book ‘Into the Vietnamese Kitchen’, which I can highly recommend. Her additional tips on making pho are as useful as the main recipe. However there’s no set rule for making this soup, so feel free to substitute or ad lib if required.


For the broth

  • Beef bones (in this case, from fore rib, but anything large and preferably with marrow is good)
  • some nuggets of fat from the beef
  • 300g brisket or similar beef cut
  • 2 mid-size onions, halved
  • 6-8cm ginger, sliced lengthways
  • 5 star anise
  • 6 cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1.5 tablespoons rock salt
  • 3 tablespoons rock or palm sugar

For the finished bowls

  • Noodles (ideally flat rice sticks, but we used rice vermicelli first time, and something like dried ramen next)
  • Fresh mint and coriander leaves, torn roughly
  • Beansprouts
  • Birds-eye chillies, sliced thinly
  • Beef (we cut thin slices from the cooked rare rib meat, and poured the hot broth over)
  • Scallions (spring onions), sliced and briefly blanched to take the edge off them
  • Limes, cut into wedges
A key tip for the start; char your ginger and onions. Slice them, then hold them over the gas flame on your hob until they char nicely round the edges. This gives a lovely richness to the broth. Then add salt, spices, sugar, fish sauce, bones and the cut of braising beef to the pot. First time I made this, I used normal granulated sugar. Second time, at our mum’s, we used rock sugar…and it was so much better. Alternatively you could use some panela, or at least some sticky muscovado to give more depth and aroma to the sweetness in the broth.
Bones, beef, salt. sugar and spice

First time, I used the slow cooker to make the broth overnight to allow all the flavours a chance to meld and mix wonderfully. Plus, the aroma you’ll wake up to is something else! At our mum’s we simmered the stock for several hours in the evening in a cast iron casserole, then let it cool overnight, before giving it some more time in the morning. This quicker cooking time was balanced out by being able to use more beef bones, giving a richer stock. However if you can, use the slow cooker for maximum flavour impact!

Strain the dark, delicious broth to remove any bits of spices and aromatics. You’re wanting to retain just the liquid. If you’ve used any braising cuts of meat in the stock you can retain it ready for a sandwich, shredded. Then put the broth back on the heat to keep warm.

The magic of pho for me is that tantalising counterplay between the slowly simmered, aromatic broth and the crispy fresh ingredients in the bowls. It’s bright and fresh, yet deep and complex. So ten minutes before you’re ready to serve, cook your noodles til al dente; then douse them in iced water to arrest their cooking further. Place them at the bottom of a deep, wide bowl; then add bean sprouts for crunch (I’ve also added mandolin’d carrot for brightness and bite). Add the meat, then pour over the hot broth. Let each diner garnish accordingly with fresh herbs, slices of chilli and scallion, and perhaps a squeeze of lime juice to taste. Happy slurping! Read more