Dessert buffet

When I am cooking for my husband, I know what he likes/doesn’t like and I can adjust my cooking to that. But at dinner parties it is often difficult to cater for all the different preferences, also I usually don’t know all the preferences of all the people that are invited. Being quite a picky eater myself, I know how difficult it can be at dinner parties when your host made something delicious, but containing an ingredient you don’t like, to either say you don’t like it, or eating it anyway and lying about it… both hurtful for the host. That is why I always try to make something in such a way that people can avoid the things they don’t like, for example by serving the sauces on the side, not cutting ingredients too small and using a base ingredient/dish that most people like, but also by serving food buffet style, even when eating with a small group. Usually when people don’t like the one dish, they do like the other dishes.

This dessert is a good example of serving food buffet style:
– Riz au lait (French rice pudding)
– Strawberries marinated in balsamic vinegar
– Spicy apple compote
– Custard
– Toffee sauce (careful, this is addicting stuff!)
– Fleur de sel (combined with the toffee sauce this makes salted caramel, something people either love or hate)

When you cook for more people you can expand this buffet with other fruits, for example poached pears or peaches with vanilla, blueberry sauce or fresh raspberries, but bowls with different kinds of chocolate chips and nuts would also be very delicious.

Riz au lait (4 persons)
From ‘Raymond Blanc – Echt Frans Koken’

850 ml milk (full fat milk is the tastiest for this dish)
50 g sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
75 g pudding rice (use risotto or sushi rice when you cannot get hold of pudding rice; this does change the amount of liquid you need and the cooking time!)
Optional: sugar to caramelize the top

Heat the milk, sugar and vanilla to a simmer in a medium-large pan. Add the rice and bring back to a simmer. Stir every 5 minutes and at the end of the cooking time even more often, since the mixture is prone to bubbling up quite high and prone to sticking and burning on the bottom of the pan. Cook 30 minutes in total, and meanwhile heat the oven to 150C.
Scoop the rice pudding in a shallow oven dish (about 24 cm diameter) and place in the oven for 30 minutes. Serve immediately or prepare 1-2 hours in advance to serve the pudding warm/at room temperature.
Optional: preheat the grill. Sprinkle the cooked and baked rice pudding with sugar. Place under the grill for 1 minute, or until the sugar is caramelized.

Strawberries marinated in balsamic vinegar

250 g strawberries, halved or quartered if very large
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
optional: sugar

Mix the strawberries with the balsamic vinegar. Leave to marinate for at least 30 minutes, but not more than 2 hours, otherwise the berries will get too mushy. If you think it is too sour/harsh (also depends on the type of balsamic vinegar you use), add a little sugar to balance it out.

Spicy apple compote

2 apples
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
2 cloves
1 very small piece of mace

Quarter, peel, core and cube the apples. Place in a saucepan with the spices and a splash of water. Cook with a lid until the apples are soft, this takes 5-15 minutes depending on the variety of apple. When the compote is very wet, you can cook it a bit longer with the lid off. Fish out the cloves and mace (or warn your guests), serve warm or on room temperature.

Custard
Slightly adapted from ‘James Martin – Dessert’

3 egg yolks
25 g sugar
100 ml milk
100 ml cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Place the milk, cream and vanilla extract in a sauce pan. Bring to the boil.
Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks and sugar together.
Once the milk and cream are boiling, pour a little on the eggs and mix well, then pour back into the pan.
Return to the heat and whisk continually until the mixture thickens. Do not boil (this will curdle the custard)!
When it coats the back of a wooden spoon, the foam on top disappears while whisking and you feel that the mixture has thickened, remove the custard from the heat immediately and pour into a bowl or serving jug. Stir occasionally or place some cling film on the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Serve warm, on room temperature, or cold.

Toffee sauce
Slightly adapted from ‘James Martin – Dessert’

100 g brown sugar (light or dark)
100 g butter
200 ml double cream

Melt the butter and sugar together in a small pan. Add the cream and bring to the boil. Simmer for a few minutes until the sauce reaches the desired consistency. Pour in a serving jug. Serve immediately, leave to cool or make in advance and reheat in the microwave. Sometimes the sauce splits, for example when you use Dutch whipping cream with a fat percentage 30 or 35% (the highest you can get here) instead of real double cream with a fat percentage of 48%, but don’t worry: you can use a stick blender to re-emulsify the sauce.

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