Not everyone loves a sherry trifle, but I think it is delicious. For me, the most important bit is making your own custard. We make this recipe in the cookery school and the students always say, “Wow, I never knew it was so easy to make your own custard.” You could also put a little sherry into the custard, if you like.

A madeira cake from your local bakery is absolutely perfect for this trifle and it is a dessert which can be made ahead. The fruits give lovely texture and flavour. If you don’t have time, Simply Better at Dunnes Stores have a lovely custard made by an Irish company called Spice O’ Life, based in Dunmanway, Co Cork.

For your pecan tart, you could make your pastry over the next week or so and keep it in the fridge or freezer. Pecans and maple syrup work really well together.

This is not the lightest tart, but it really is lovely and makes a great treat in the festive season. It is delicious with some lightly-whipped cream and a little bit of sea salt on the top is fantastic. Achill Island Sea Salt is one I like and they have recently got their PDO certification, which is a fantastic achievement. Well done to them.

Happy cooking,


Vera’s Sherry Trifle

Serves six

200g (7oz) Madeira cake,

broken into pieces

300ml (½ pint) cream

Toasted flaked almonds, to decorate

Pomegranate seeds, to decorate

Spun sugar, to decorate (optional)

For the custard

300ml (½ pint) milk

100ml (3½fl oz) cream

½ vanilla pod, split in half lengthways

and seeds scraped out

5 egg yolks

4 tbsp caster sugar

2 tsp cornflour

For the fruit

100ml (3½fl oz) sweet sherry

100g (4oz) caster sugar

½ vanilla pod, split in half lengthways and seeds scraped out

1 x 500g (18oz) bag of frozen fruits

of the forest

1 To make the custard, put the milk, cream and vanilla pod and seeds in a heavy-based pan set over a gentle heat and cook until it nearly reaches the boil – but don’t allow to boil. Meanwhile, put the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour in a large bowl and whisk together until pale and thickened.

2 Remove the hot milk and cream mixture from the heat and slowly whisk it into the egg mixture through a fine sieve until smooth. Discard the vanilla pod and pour back into the pan, then set over a gentle heat.

3 Cook, without allowing it to boil, until the custard coats the back of a wooden spoon, stirring continuously. Remove from the heat and leave to cool, covered with a piece of cling film pressed directly on the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming on top.

4 Meanwhile, prepare the fruit. Put the sherry in a large pan with the sugar and vanilla seeds and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 4-5 minutes, until syrupy, stirring occasionally. Stir in the frozen fruits of the forest and set aside until cooled, stirring occasionally. The fruits should defrost naturally in the hot syrup but still hold their shape.

5 Scatter the Madeira cake over the base of a 1.5 litre (2½ pint) glass

serving bowl. Spoon over the fruit and cover with the cooled custard. Chill for one hour, until the custard sets a little firmer, or up to 24 hours is fine.

6 When ready to serve, whip the cream in a bowl until you have achieved soft peaks. Put spoonfuls on top of the custard, then gently spread with a palette knife or the back of a spoon to cover the custard completely (or you can use a piping bag). Sprinkle over the toasted flaked almonds and pomegranate seeds and decorate with some spun sugar, if you like, then place straight on the table to serve.

Neven Maguire Pecan Pie Recipes. \ Philip Doyle

Pecan Tart

Serves 6-8

For the pastry

250g (9oz) plain flour, plus extra for dusting

125g (4½oz) butter,

chilled and cut into cubes

2 medium egg yolks

good pinch of salt

1–2 tbsp ice-cold water

For the filling

175g (6oz) pecan nuts

3 medium eggs

150g (5oz) golden syrup

100g (4oz) butter

100g (4oz) dark soft brown sugar

50g (2oz) maple syrup

¼ tsp sea salt flakes

2 tbsp whiskey

Seeds of ½ vanilla pod or 1 tsp

vanilla extract

To serve

Vanilla ice cream

1 First make the pastry. Put the flour and butter in a food processor and blitz until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolks and salt and blitz again until it forms a ball. If the mixture still looks a bit dry, you can add the water, but you want a soft pastry that isn’t sticky.

2 Tip out onto a lightly-floured surface and shape into a ball. Wrap in cling film and chill for 15 minutes to rest.

3 Preheat the oven to 180°C (350F/gas mark 4).

4 Roll out the pastry on a lightly-floured surface and use it to line a 10cm x 34cm (4in x 13½in) loose-bottomed flan tin that is 2.5cm (1in) deep. Put back in the fridge for 15 minutes to rest.

5 Meanwhile, put the pecans on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 8–10 minutes, until lightly toasted.

Remove from the oven and set aside 100g (4oz) of perfect whole ones, then

roughly chop the rest to use in the filling.

6 Fill the lined pastry case with parchment paper and baking beans or dried kidney beans and put on a baking sheet. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, until the pastry looks set but not coloured. Remove the beans and parchment.

7 Separate one of the eggs (put the yolk to one side) and quickly brush the base with the unbeaten egg white to form a seal. Put back into the oven for another five minutes, until the base is firm and the pastry feels sandy to the touch.

8 To make the filling, put the golden syrup, butter, sugar, maple syrup and salt in a pan set over a medium-high heat. Bring it to the boil, then turn down the heat and let it simmer for 3–5 minutes over a very low heat. Take off the heat and stir in the whiskey and vanilla and leave it to cool a little.

9 Add the eggs and reserved egg yolk, one at a time, whisking well between each addition, then fold in the chopped pecans. Pour into the pastry case, then arrange the whole pecan nuts on top in attractive rows.

10 Put the tart on a baking sheet, then bake in the oven for 15–20 minutes, until the filling is set but still has a little wobble. Leave to cool slightly, then cut into slices and serve warm on a plate with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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