I hope you’ve all had a wonderful Christmas. Mine was spread over two lovely days, a fairly quiet Christmas Day itself with son Jonathan, his wife and two little boys. Jonathan, an excellent cook, made us a lunch of perfectly grilled steak on his gas barbecue and opened a fabulous bottle of Bordeaux wine to go with it. Boxing Day was our traditional Christmas meal when my daughter Nicola and her wife Rachael arrived from Worcestershire to join us, and my brother Adam came with his daughter Clara and son Leo. A turkey was cooked, a sausage meat stuffing made, potatoes roasted, Brussels sprouts cooked with chestnuts and shallots, mince pies baked and a traditional Christmas pudding steamed. Nine of us, including not-quite-three Freddie, sat round the table for lunch. Like most families we kept things fairly traditional; sometimes there’s comfort in tradition, just as there’s comfort and joy in having a family gathered together round a table.
While many of our traditions are much like other families we have an important couple of our own. The first is that for as long as I can remember we’ve eaten panettone on Christmas morning with our coffee as we open presents. This year I bought it from our fabulous local Italian deli, Corto Deli.
We buy two now as some of us like traditional panettone with citrus fruit and raisins but my two daughters-in-law don’t like raisins so we buy a chocolate version too. My Italian teacher Fabio saw them and said Loison were one of the best makes; then Loison was voted top in Observer Food Monthly‘s test of Christmas foods.
The second tradition is to make an alternative dessert for the non-raisin eaters. And this year I kept to the chocolate theme and made a chocolate roulade – Roulade au Chocolat. The decision to make a roulade came about from seeing all the traditional Christmas chocolate logs in bakeries. Well, I thought, I can make one (well, similar!) of my own. And I remembered the roulade I used to make frequently, although I hadn’t made it for years. The recipe is in an old book, published in 1979. Pudding and Desserts by Carolyn McCrum was I book I commissioned and edited when I was an editor at Methuen and working on lots of cookery books. It’s therefore quite special to me and the recipe simple but wonderfully reliable – and, most importantly, delicious.
I used to fill the roulade simply with slightly sweetened cream and maybe some raspberries. I’d sprinkle cocoa powder over the top before rolling it, as Carolyn suggests. But for our Christmas meal I decided to fill it with chestnut purée, folded into whipped cream, and drizzle over melted chocolate to decorate rather than use cocoa powder. I considered putting cherries in it, as I used to do raspberries, but wasn’t sure about the firmer texture of the fruit with the soft, light chocolate sponge. However, cherries are such a classic combination with chocolate sponge and cream – Black Forest Gâteau, of course – I decided to serve fresh cherries with it.
- 100g dark (at least 70% cocoa) chocolate
- 2 tablespoon espresso
- 3 large eggs
- 100g caster sugar
- 200g unsweetened chestnut purée
- 275ml double cream
- a little icing sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
- 100g each of white and dark chocolate
- a punnet of dark cherries
Put the chocolate in a small basin over simmering water with the coffee, not allowing the bottom of the basin to touch the water. Leave to melt, stirring occasionally. Don’t stir a lot or it will thicken the chocolate too much.
Separate the eggs. Beat the yolks with the sugar until thick and pale. Whisk the egg whites until stiff.
Add the melted chocolate to the egg mixture and combine.
Slowly and very gently fold in the stiff egg whites.
Butter a baking tray (about 34cm x 24cm). Line it with baking parchment and butter the paper. Pour the chocolate mixture over it and spread as gently as you can.
Place in a preheated (180C/Fan 160/Gas 4 oven for 15 minutes or until a sharp knife stuck into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven.
Cover loosely in a damp tea cloth (wrung out as dry as you can manage). Leave for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the filling. Break up the chestnut purée and mash with a fork.
Whip the cream with a couple of teaspoons icing sugar and the vanilla paste until starting to thicken but don’t whip too much as the mixture will thicken later.
Pour the whipped cream into the chestnut purée and whisk together. Check taste to see if you want more sugar.
Lay a sheet of clean greaseproof paper over the top of the chocolate sponge. Carefully tip over. Peel the baking parchment lining very carefully from the bottom of the sponge.
Put the chestnut cream on top and spread over, almost to the edges.
Now for the slightly tricky bit! To fold the roulade up, turn it so it’s longwise on facing you. Fold over the greaseproof paper and start to slowly fold over, pushing from the back gently so that it folds into a roll.
Carefully transfer to a serving dish (as you can see from this my only suitable one was decorated with fish – presumably not intended for chocolate roulade! But then I was feeding family and it really didn’t matter).
Melt the white chocolate in the same way as for the sponge. Add a splash of water instead of coffee. You want a pouring consistency. Then melt the dark chocolate in the same way.
Drizzle first the white chocolate and then the dark chocolate over the roulade from a bit of a height. Surround the roulade with the cherries.
It looked terrific; as special as it was supposed to for a special Christmas meal with my family.
Cut thick slices to serve and put a few of the cherries with it.
It was really delicious. Not surprisingly some people wanted this as well as Christmas pudding. Well, it was Christmas! And we all like to indulge. The roulade would however also make a great dessert for anytime, served with other fruit if you prefer. It’s really easy to make but you’re rewarded with a special-looking dessert that will impress friends and taste absolutely chocolatey gorgeous.