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Christmas dinner in New Zealand at the Brown house is an amalgamation of the traditional wintery English food that my grandparents always served, and lighter summery fare, that acknowledges that we’re not actually watching robins perch on snowy boughs, and that the sun may be beating down (as it did this Christmas day).

I love planning and cooking the Christmas dinner, but I adore the desserts and sweets end of the menu. I thought that before Christmas is packed away for another year, you might enjoy a look at some of the food, and you might like to file away a great recipe for the prettiest chocolate strawberries (we’ll get to those soon.)

Firstly, get the trestle tables out of the garage, and set a pretty table with roses from Mum’s garden at each setting.

Put lusciously juicy Ranier cherries into pink glasses…

and add dishes with snappy gingerbread cookies propped up in sugar.

After barbequed prawns and scallops with mango salsa, prime rib, glazed ham, duck-fat roasted potatoes and other side dishes, plus a woo-woo cocktail or two, I knew I wouldn’t want to be carefully plating the desserts, so I planned desserts that could be pre-prepared into individual servings.

Trifle is a non-negotiable, so I made a raspberry trifles in glasses rather than my big glass trifle dish. Raspberries are hitting their peak here, so they were a natural choice for the fruit component, with a slurp of Framboise liqueur to accentuate their flavour. To lighten the traditional layering of  sponge cake, fruit and custard, I added a jelly made from a couple of packets of frozen berries, simmered with a little water, sugar and lemon juice. I mashed the berries as they cooked, then strained them through a sieve lined with muslin. Then the tart juice was topped up with water till I had enough for 1/2 cup per serving, reheated to melt the gelatine ( I used 2 1/2 sheets of soaked gelatine for each cup of juice, as the jelly needs to be firm enough to support the following layers.) The jelly needs to become semi-set before it is poured over the cake and berries, otherwise it will turn the sponge into soggy mush. Add a final layer of creamy vanilla creme patisserie, a piped swirl of whipped cream and a perky berry for garnish. The last touch was a shower of  gold sprinkles. I save these for special occasions, as they were a souvenir of Paris, bought at the Bon Marche Grande Epicerie. These were all prepared the day before, and the genoise sponge was baked the week before and frozen.
The other dessert was pear-caramel ice cream with finely diced candied ginger mixed into the ice cream, garnished with tiny gingerbread trees (that’s edible glitter on the tree tips). These were all scooped the day before, so I only had to reheat the salted caramel sauce before serving them. The recipe for the ice cream and the sauce came from David Lebovitz‘s book, “The Perfect Scoop”. This is probably the best book on making ice cream I’ve ever come across, perfect results every time and flavours to fill a whole summer with creamy goodness.
And finally, strawberries in tuxedos…
I first served these at Christmas about ten years ago, and now the girls insist that they are an essential part of the Christmas feast.Although, how they actually made it to the table, when they kept mysteriously disappearing from the kitchen….. Strawberries in tuxedos

2 punnets of firm ripe strawberries
2 large blocks of white chocolate
1 1/2 large block of dark (bittersweet) chocolate

Things to know: the berries need to be very dry, otherwise the chocolate will quickly develop a bloom on the surface. The amount of chocolate is more than you will need for dipping, but it’s hard to dip in smaller amounts. Be sure that all your bowls, knives, cutting boards etc. are completely dry, as a speck of moisture is enough to make the chocolate seize

Line a tray with non-stick baking paper.
Finely chop the white chocolate and place in a heat-proof bowl. Put enough water into a pot so that when the bowl of water is placed on top, the water won’t touch the bottom of the bowl and bring to a simmer. Place the bowl of chocolate on top of the pot, and stir gently until melted. I don’t advise melting white chocolate in the microwave, as it melts at a much lower temp. than dark, and it’s very easy to overheat it.
Holding the strawberries by the stems, and immerse them in the chocolate right up to the green leaves. Scrape any excess off with the rim of the bowl and place on the paper-lined tray. Refrigerate for ten minutes.

Finely chop the dark chocolate, and melt in the microwave. Give it 30 second blasts and stir gently until just melted.
Remove the berries from the fridge, trim any feet that have formed on the bottoms with a sharp knife.
Dip the berries in the dark chocolate on their side, to form a diagonal coating on one side, then immediately tilt the berry and dip on its other side, so that you have a berry with a V of white.Place back on the tray.

Scrape the remaining dark chocolate into a small ziplock plastic bag, snip a tiny hole in the corner of the bag and pipe a bow tie, and two or three buttons in the white V area. I find it easiest to imagine a figure-of-eight whilst piping the bow ties.
These will keep refrigerated for 24hrs.

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