A Continental Christmas: Roll Out The Red Carpet

We’re starting in France with an absolute classic: the chocolate roulade. A fluffy, lighter-than-air sponge rolled around whipped cream and dusted with icing sugar, this dessert is sure to be a show-stopper at any Christmas dinner table. In our house, especially in the festive season, it goes down particularly well with a handful of black cherries (in kirsch) as a sort of black forest gateau twist; it is equally delicious with a drizzle of macerated raspberries and a grating of dark chocolate. With so many different spins on this classic, let’s get baking.

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So we’re beginning with the key part, around which everything else revolves: the flourless chocolate sponge. After separating the eggs (whites in one bowl, and yolks in another larger bowl), the whites are whisked to stiff peaks. These eggs are going to be the thing that gives the sponge its unique texture, so be extremely delicate with them as the end result will turn out so much better when you retain all that air; if you are brave enough and confident enough to hold them over your head, then go right ahead. And to anyone with that amount of conviction, I take my hat off to you.

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The yolks are then whisked with the caster sugar until a ribbon of the mix can be used to write a figure of eight on the surface. This is the telltale sign that it is ready to fold in the melted dark chocolate. Though there is a range of ways to melt chocolate, I find with dark chocolate it is safe to throw it in the microwave and heat it in 15-second intervals, stirring each time. Once you’re left with a bowl of glossy melted chocolate you can start to incorporate it into the beaten egg yolk and sugar mix.

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You’ll know when this sponge is ready to come out of the oven because the top will have dried out and looks slightly crisp, and if it sinks slightly while cooling in the tin that is completely normal. The one thing you do not want to do is over bake the sponge as this will result in a sponge which is nigh-on impossible to roll up without cracking and crumbling everywhere. If this happens (and trust me, it happens), it is not the end of the world. A good way to save it is to plate it up is in a similar way to Eton mess – in a glass with lashings of cream/ice cream, some black cherries or raspberries (and a drizzle of amaretto or cherry liqueur). Either way, you’ll struggle to keep yourself from having only one serving.

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For the filling of whipped cream, I usually simply whip double cream to soft peaks. However, this time I decided to add a teaspoon of vanilla extract and a pinch of caster sugar, before whipping to make it extra indulgent. You could even layer your chosen fruit on the inside of the roulade instead of serving them on top or on the side. However, I would only do this if you were going to serve it straight away, otherwise, it’s best to stick to just cream when rolling and then add all the extras after slicing.

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Once everything comes together, you are finally left with something which, in my opinion, is fit for absolutely any festive occasion, and is sure to get people’s heads turning, not to mention fighting over who gets the last slice. The slightly fudgy texture of the sponge with the fresh cream is a pairing of heavenly proportions, and add in a handful of slightly tart raspberries and you would never see me leave the table. This is an absolute must for anyone who is looking for a show-stopping, decadent and all-round delectable dessert, so what are you waiting for?

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THE RECIPE

Ingredients

  • 90g Good-quality dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • 3 Free-range eggs, separated
  • 90g Caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp Cocoa powder
  • 200ml Double cream
  • Icing sugar, to dust

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°c/350 Fahrenheit/Gas Mark 4.
  2. Lightly grease a 33cm x 23cm/13in x 9in Swiss roll tin then line the base and sides of the tin with a large sheet of greaseproof paper, pushing it into the corners. Make a small diagonal snip in each corner of the paper; this helps to fit the paper snugly into the corners of the tin.
  3. Melt the chocolate in a bowl in the microwave or in a double boiler.
  4. Place the egg whites in a clean bowl and whisk until stiff peaks form.
  5. Put the egg yolks in a separate bowl with the sugar and whisk using the same whisk (no need to wash it) on high speed for 2-3 minutes or until thick and creamy and the mixture leaves a thick ribbon-like trail when the beaters are lifted.
  6. Pour in the cooled chocolate and gently fold together until well combined.
  7. Gently stir two large spoonfuls of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to loosen the mix, then fold in the remaining egg whites using a large metal spoon. Sift the cocoa over the top and lightly fold it in.
  8. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and gently move the tin around until the mixture is level.
  9. Bake in the preheated oven for about 10-15 minutes until risen and the top feels firm and slightly crisp. Remove from the oven, leave in the tin and set aside until cold.
  10. Whip the cream until soft peaks form; set aside for later use.
  11. Lay a large piece of greaseproof paper on the work surface and dust it lightly with icing sugar. Turn the roulade out on to the paper so its lining paper is on top, then carefully peel off the paper in strips. Spread the roulade with the whipped cream, leaving a border of about 2cm/¾in all the way around the edges. With one of the shortest edges facing you, make a cut along it with a blunt knife, going about half way through the sponge. This will help to start the rolling up. Now roll this cut edge over tightly to start with and use the paper to help continue the tight rolling, by pulling it away from you as you roll. Don’t worry if the roulade cracks a little, as this is what makes it look like the bark of a tree
  12. Finish with the join underneath then lift the roulade onto a serving plate or board and dust lightly with a little more icing sugar.

Notes: Adapted from Mary Berry’s Chocolate Roulade Recipe

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