Sweets: from breakfast to supper

The best dessert ever made starts with a punnet of perfectly ripe raspberries, fresh from the vine, picked at summer’s dusk; warmed through until the berries give just a little of their juice. The lot is then poured over vanilla bean ice cream, fresh from the churn.

But if you stop there, you stopped watching cricket when Bradman retired; gave up tennis when Laver departed; and found no time for golf, post-Thomson.

There’s a modern train of thought which says that the perfect meal ends with perfect, seasonal fruit, and plenty of it. There’s much to be said for that school, but it neglects two fundamentals: making delicious desserts is without question the most satisfying plank in the cook’s platform; and a classic dessert is guaranteed to lead to a standing ovation. Will a bowl of the best raspberries, a tropical passionfruit, a mango from the Philippines, a rollinia from Queensland, or the first Jonathan of the season do that?

Desserts are the greatest diet busters imaginable. I am surprised, in fact, that Adam lost his way with a mere apple (certain to have been a Jonathan). I reckon he would have fallen earlier if Eve had concocted an early version of Girardet’s passion- fruit souffle; or if she had cooked the apples, ground them to a puree, and covered them with a crumble; or if she’d sat next to him at table, taken a chocolate mousse with her fingers, and licked the bowl clean, a gleam in her eye. Who could resist such overtures?

I can’t. Never could, never will. Desserts were always important to our growing family. I think my mother recognised early on that main courses were treated as fuel, and desserts as the main event. Choruses of ‘Thanks for dinner, mum,’ always followed one of her classic puddings or pies; mumbles after roast lamb and a bowl of fruit.

Desserts are paradise for a creative cook. The foundations have been set by generations, and now we can fine-tune, bring forward lost flavours, fiddle endlessly, and create something uniquely ours. There will be failures along the way; but there is no fun without a fumble.

What you’ll need


A battery of bowls, for mixing, cooking, storing.


A rubber spatula to draw up the absolute last piece of foam, or batter, or sauce from the bowl.


A large balloon whisk to make your whisking so much easier, and several wooden spoons for beating.


A quality pastry brush, to get your pastries shining. Pay a little more: you don’t want the brush to leave its bristles on the pastry.


A Kenwood or Kitchen-Aid mixer, or equivalent. For some reason or other, these marvels drifted out of favour with the introduction of the food processor. Don’t fall for that. There is a place for each in the world. How else can you cream butter or eggs easily? Keep your eyes peeled for a bargain in the trading papers.


A vigorous food processor.

Don’t believe they are all the same. The absolute champion for me is an early domestic version produced by Robot, the makers of the big commercial models, and later the Magimix. My whizzer is called a Robot Chef, and I bought it in 1979. It served five years in a restaurant kitchen, before the bowl collapsed. I fluked a hardly used version from a trading paper, and it fills me with joy when I use it. This was a case of the first model being the best. If you ever see one, snap it up. Whatever you buy, make sure it has a powerful motor, no less than 500 watts.


A large bench. I couldn’t do without a big bench. Where else to put all the bowls, and the elbows of the ‘helping’ children? If it’s marble, you’re lucky, but don’t go out and buy marble unless you make heaps of pastry.


A fair dinkum ice cream machine is the ultimate luxury. Not only does home-made ice cream lift any meal from the ordinary to the extraordinary, it is also a whizz for cocktails, especially those based on champagne. This is another thing which turns up in trading papers: well-meaning husbands buy them for wives who can’t be bothered making ice cream. I know; that’s how I got mine.


A microwave is indispensable for stewing fruit perfectly, and making the quickest, easiest and best jams and jellies. If all a microwave could do was this, it would make me happy.


Vanilla beans by the truckload. I used to think vanilla beans were expensive until I discovered the labour involved in growth, harvest and marketing the little dears. Try these for size: the vanilla plant (vanilla planifolia) is a member of the orchid family, which climbs and creeps and can grow as long as 110 metres! Grown commercially, it is allowed growth of 1.5 metres; its favourite growing places are the wetlands of Africa; Madagascar produces 50 per cent of the world’s natural vanilla; vanilla flowers are hand-pollinated for several months; the green pods are scent-free, and undergo a five- month process of baking, sweating, wrapping in woollen blankets andbaking in the sun, before they are exported in metal boxes lined with grease-proof paper.

No wonder they are so expensive. We shouldn’t really quibble with the cost anyway – they provide ecstasy to creams and cakes. Pay; damn the cost.


Fancy moulds, to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.


Your grandmother’s recipe book; where else will you find perfect, time-worked puddings, that work all the time? Don’t let these wonderful concoctions disappear. If they are all stuck inside her head, ply her with sherry and get them written down. You owe them to your children too.


A sugar thermometer is a perfect tool to let you know just how far you can go when cooking custard. You won’t need it after a while – your eye will do the job – but it will set you on the path to desserts glory.

The recipes

Custard, the key to the door; to ice cream and more:

Caramel ice cream; Chocolate ice cream; Bavarois;

Pastry cream; Fruit soup 181

Creme brulee from New York’s Le Cirque 183

Childhood memories: a Kreem-b-tween 185

Peach Melba the way it used to be, should be 187

Peppermint ice cream with chocolate chips 188

Rhubarb parfait, with a difference 190

My mum’s Christmas pudding 191

A simple apple flan, or kids in the kitchen 192

An apple and berry puff pastry tart 194

Apples in caramel 195

A short cut to an apple pie 196

Quince and pear souffle 197

Sheer joy: a quince and pear crumble 200

Pears in caramel, effortlessly 201

A fruit sponge or cobbler 202

An apricot pie, served from the pan 204

A black and white bavarois 205

Chocolate souffle 207

A light and fluffy chocolate pudding 208

A rich and flourless chocolate cake 210

Chocolate mousse 211

Chocolate fudge cake 212

Summer pudding as a jelly 213

Variations on Fredy Girardet’s passionfruit souffle 214

Jamie Ford’s lemon tart 217

Slattery’s summer souffle, Christmas 1990 and forever

more 218

Rhubarb souffle, from the boot 220

Cold rhubarb souffle, ice cream and air 220

A cake of rhubarb 221

Muesli with strawberries, bananas and coconut milk 222