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"This is a traditional tart eaten in Naples at Easter," says Ingram. "The legend goes that a mermaid called Parthenope in the Gulf of Napoli would sing to celebrate the arrival of spring each year. One year, to say thank you, the Neapolitans offered her gifts of ricotta, flour, eggs, wheat, perfumed orange flowers and spices. She took them to her kingdom under the sea, where the gods made them into a cake. I love to add nibs of chocolate to Parthenope cake because I think it marries nicely with the candied orange and sultanas, but, really, do you need an excuse to add chocolate to anything?" Start this recipe a day ahead to prepare the pastry and soak the sultanas.
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The mix of candied apple and dried apple combined with a sticky cinnamon glaze provides a new twist on an old favourite. These buns are equally good served warm on the day of baking, or several days later, toasted, with lashings of butter.
This recipe makes 1 litre of custard.
Variations on basic custard
For chocolate custard: leave out vanilla and add 200gm finely chopped dark chocolate to the mixture just before straining, mixing well to melt and combine.
For honey custard: substitute the sugar with 150gm honey.
For passionfruit custard: add 2/3 cup passionfruit pulp to cooled custard mixture.
For strawberry custard: add 2/3 cup strawberry purée and 1 tsp lemon juice to cooled custard mixture.
To make ice-cream: freeze the cooled custard mixture in an ice-cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.
To make a lush trifle, coarsely crush some strawberries, a little sugar and a liqueur, such as Grand Marnier, together using a fork. Layer in a large bowl, top with some coarsely crumbled sponge cake (soaked in liqueur) and vanilla custard.
Custard. The very word conjures images of nursery-room comfort or of Oliver Twist-esque street urchins carolling the virtues of "cold jelly and custard". The generic term refers to a mixture of cream and eggs thickened by gentle heating, used in dishes ranging from flans, quiches and crème caramel to the Japanese savoury baked custard chawan mushi.
In this case, though, we're talking unctuous pouring custard, quintessentially English (although the French translation, crème Anglaise, sounds much prettier). It's favoured for serving warm alongside steamed puddings and cakes (think Christmas pud and brandy-laced custard) or chilled and layered with jelly, fruit and sponge cake in that other English dessert favourite, the trifle. Its versatility is further evident in its frozen incarnation; churn it using an ice-cream machine and you'll have an ice-cream unrivalled by any commercial preparation.
Flavouring options are virtually unlimited, whether infused with spices, scented with flower essences, spiked with booze, enriched with chocolate or lightened with fresh fruit purées.
There are several keys to a perfect custard which will then carry over to a perfect ice-cream, should you decide to take the extra step. Firstly, when whisking your eggs and sugar, be sure to whisk until very thick and pale. This ensures the sugar is well dissolved and aerates the mixture. Secondly, use a heavy-based saucepan when cooking the custard to reduce the possibility of catching or scorching. When cooking the custard, it's best to do so over a low-medium heat, stirring continuously so you don't end up with a scrambled mess. While stirring, you'll notice the bubbles on the surface of the mixture will disappear as the mixture thickens. This is a good visual clue warning you the mixture is almost ready. If you're planning to serve the custard warm, remove from the heat just bef-ore it reaches the desired consistency, as the residual heat will continue cooking the egg proteins. Strain into a wide jug and serve immediately. If you'd like to serve it cold, prepare a large bowl of ice (with some water added) and set a smaller bowl on top. Strain the mixture into the bowl using a fine strainer. Cover closely with plastic wrap and refrigerate to cool completely before churning for ice-cream.
Should you 'split' or slightly scramble the mixture, there may yet be some recourse. If the mixture is only slightly split, whisk it over ice to allow steam to escape, or cool completely and process in a food processor to try to bring the mixture together. Neither of these methods are guaranteed, but are worth the effort to save your bowl of creamy goodness.