I have two showstoppers for you today. I am early in the Christmas spirit, as I have just finished recording my two RTÉ Christmas Specials at Muckross Traditional Farms in Killarney. Thank you to Bord Bia for your help. I will let you know when they are being broadcast.

Vera’s sherry Trifle was one of my mum’s great treats and it brings back so many childhood memories. It is fine to use a shop-bought Madeira cake for this recipe. We have often made this custard recipe in our cookery school, and people are always surprised at how easy it is.

Both of today’s recipes use forest fruits, so it is worth getting some and freezing them. This recipe has some beautiful Christmas scents and is lovely to have when visitors call. You could also do the Victoria sponge recipe as cupcakes, but it will bake much more quickly – in about 15 minutes.

Happy Cooking,


Vera’s Sherry Trifle

Serves 8-10

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. Don’t allow it to come to a full boil.

2 Meanwhile, put the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour in a large bowl and whisk together until pale and thickened.

3 Remove the hot milk and cream mixture from the heat and slowly whisk it into the egg mixture, pouring it through a fine sieve, until smooth.

4 Discard the vanilla pod and pour the mixture back into the pan, then set over a gentle heat. Cook, without allowing it to boil, until the custard coats the back of a wooden spoon, stirring continuously.

5 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.

6 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.

7 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.

8 Scatter the Madeira cake over the base of a 1.5 litre (2.5 pint) glass serving bowl. Spoon over the fruit and cover with the cooled custard. Chill for 1 hour, until the custard sets a little firmer, or up to 24 hours is fine.

9 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).

10 Sprinkle over the toasted flaked almonds and pomegranate seeds and decorate with some spun sugar if liked, then place straight on the table to serve.

Mulled Winter Berry Victoria Sponge

Serves 8-10 For the sponge

Mulled Winter Berry Victoria Sponge / Nessa Robins

225g (8oz) butter, softened, plus extra for greasing

200g (7oz) caster sugar

4 medium eggs

225g (8oz) self-raising flour, sifted

grated rind of two oranges

seeds of ½ vanilla pod or 1 tsp vanilla extract

½ tsp ground cinnamon

¼ tsp baking powder

For the mulled berry jam

300g (11oz) fresh or frozen mixed berries, such as blackberries, blackcurrants, blueberries and raspberries

250g (9oz) caster sugar

finely grated rind and juice of one orange

4 tbsp red wine

5 cardamom pods, bashed

2 star anise

1 cinnamon stick, snapped in half

¼ tsp ground ginger

To decorate

450ml (¾ pint) cream

fresh mint leaves

1 Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F/gas mark 4). Grease and line 2 x 20cm (8in) loose-bottomed cake tins with non-stick baking paper.

2 Using a hand-held electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Add two of the eggs and half of the flour and beat until combined. Add the other two eggs and the rest of the flour along with the orange rind, vanilla, cinnamon and baking powder and beat vigorously.

3 Divide the batter between the prepared tins. Bake in the oven for 25–30 minutes, until the cakes have shrunk slightly from the sides of the tins and spring back when touched in the centre. Remove from the oven and leave the cakes to cool in the tins.

4 Meanwhile, make the mulled berry jam: put all the ingredients in a heavy-based pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Put a small plate in the freezer (this is to check the jam later).

5 Raise the heat to medium and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly, until the liquid has reduced and the berries are coated in thick syrup.

6 To check the jam has reached setting consistency, remove the plate from the freezer and put a spoonful of jam on it. After a minute, push your finger through it. If it wrinkles, it’s set. If not, give it 5 minutes and check again.

7 Leave to cool in the pan, then remove all the spices and discard.

8 Whisk the cream until thickened and holding its shape. Put one sponge upside down on a serving plate or cake stand. Using a palette knife, spread on half of the whipped cream.

9 Spoon over three-quarters of the jam, allowing some to drip over the edges. Cover with the second sponge.

10 Pipe or swirl the rest of the whipped cream on top and dot with the remaining jam. Decorate with the fresh mint.

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