Four chocolate desserts from around the world to try this Christmas

From a gloriously sticky tarte tatin to a dense-yet-delicate Swedish lava cake, these four recipes are just the thing to make winter taste sweet.

By Christie Dietz
Published 11 Nov 2020, 17:09 GMT, Updated 19 Nov 2020, 17:06 GMT
The chocolate budino tart with salted caramel at Bestia, Los Angeles.

The chocolate budino tart with salted caramel at Bestia, Los Angeles.

Photograph by Ren Fuller

From its sacred Mayan origins in the rainforests of the upper Amazon region, the travels of the cacao bean have been complex and far-reaching. Since they were first brought to Europe by Spanish explorers, the bitter beans have been roasted and ground, melted and conched, and used to create countless delicious desserts.

Today, chocolate dominates dessert menus all over the world. You could road trip around the US, hunting down Boston cream pie, Mississippi mud cake and all sorts of puddings and s’mores in between. You could finish off dinner in Brazil with a bite-sized brigadeiro, pick up deep-fried balls of mashed plantains stuffed with chocolate from Guatemalan street stalls or tackle a folded triangle of chocolate-filled crepe almost anywhere in the world.

The recipes that follow offer a taste of Italy, Sweden, France and Mexico. Remember: when making desserts like these at home, be sure to stick to the stated cacao percentage in order to achieve the perfect texture and flavour. It’s also worth splashing out on good-quality, fairly traded chocolate — the sort of bars that are smooth, glossy and smell so good, you’ll want to eat a square before you get home.

Rich with dark chocolate, and delicately flavoured with coffee and rum, scodelline di cioccolata is best eaten in small portions.

Photograph by Mowie Kay

Scodelline di cioccolata (Sephardic dark chocolate mousse) by Paola Gavin

Scodelline, a sweet dish brought to Italy from Portugal by Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition, is usually an almond custard. However, this version from the Tuscan port city of Livorno is a chocolate mousse. Rich with dark chocolate, and delicately flavoured with coffee and rum, scodelline di cioccolata is best eaten in small portions — a serving suggestion is hinted at in the name, as ‘scodelline’ means ‘small bowls’. The eggs are raw, so use fresh, organic ones if you can.

SERVES: 4-6   
TAKES: 20 mins plus at least 2 hrs chilling 

100g dark chocolate (70%), broken into  squares
2 tbsp strong black coffee
45g unsalted butter
2-3 tbsp rum or brandy
3 eggs, separated
2 tbsp caster sugar, or to taste

Put the chocolate, coffee and butter into a heatproof bowl, then set the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water (ensuring the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water) and allow the chocolate to melt. Remove from the heat and leave to cool for a few minutes, then stir in the rum. Add the egg yolks one at a time, mixing them in well. 
2. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, then add the sugar and whisk until forming stiff peaks. Gently fold into the chocolate mixture. 
3. Spoon the mousse into individual glass dishes and chill thoroughly before serving.

Taken from Hazana by Paola Gavin (£25, Quadrille)

Sitting somewhere between a molten chocolate cake and a squidgy chocolate brownie, this classic Swedish dessert is rich and dense, with a delicate, crispy exterior and a soft, gooey centre.

Photograph by Ali Allen

Kladdkaka (Swedish chocolate cake) by Christina Tencor

Sitting somewhere between a molten chocolate cake and a squidgy chocolate brownie, this classic Swedish dessert is rich and dense, with a delicate, crispy exterior and a soft, gooey centre. Kladdkaka is straightforward to make, although it’s really worth splashing out on the best chocolate you can afford. It might be a plain-looking cake, but there’s no need for fancy embellishments — although a dollop of crème fraîche and a handful of seasonal berries will go some way towards offsetting the richness of this most chocolatey of chocolate desserts.

SERVES: 6-8 
TAKES: 45 mins

200g melted butter, plus extra for greasing
4 eggs 
400g golden caster sugar 
120g plain flour 
35g good-quality cocoa powder 
100g dark chocolate chips (70%)

Heat oven to 170C, 150C fan, gas 3½ and grease and line a 23cm round cake tin. Lightly whisk the eggs and sugar in a medium bowl, then fold in the melted butter. Add the flour, cocoa powder and 1 tsp salt and fold again, then fold in the chocolate chips. Allow the mixture to settle for a few minutes, then pour it into the prepared cake tin.
2. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 30 mins. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin on a wire rack. Keep in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.

Taken from Smorgasbord: Deliciously Simple Modern Scandinavian Recipes, by Peter’s Yard with Signe Johansen (£18.99, Kyle Books) 

Tarte tatin is a gloriously sweet, sticky, salty affair, best served with a dollop of whipped cream.

Photograph by Yuki Sugiura

Salted honey, pear and chocolate tarte tatin by Sue Quinn

The classic French tarte tatin is a sweet, sticky tart that’s cooked upside down. Traditionally made with apples caramelised in butter and sugar, it’s baked with a shortcrust or puff pastry base layered on top, before being flipped over once cooked. In this version, apples are swapped for juicy, pan-roasted pears; salt and honey are stirred into the caramel; and chopped walnuts are thrown in for added texture. It’s not an overtly chocolatey dessert, but the dark chocolate here plays a key supporting role by subtly enriching the caramel. This is a gloriously sweet, sticky, salty affair, best served with a dollop of whipped cream.

SERVES: 4-6 
TAKES: 1 hr 20 mins 

1 sheet ready-rolled puff pastry (or 320g block)
plain flour, for dusting (optional)
6 Conference pears (or other small pears), around 100g each
lemon juice, for tossing
70g unsalted butter, chopped
70g caster sugar
70g runny honey
½ tsp salt
50g walnut pieces
50g dark chocolate (60%), chopped
whipped cream, to serve

Heat oven to 180C, 160C fan, gas 4. If using block pastry, roll it out on a lightly floured surface until 3mm thick. Cut a 23cm disc from the pastry, then prick all over with a fork and put in the fridge to chill. 
2. Peel and halve the pears, then carefully remove the cores (you want perfect halves, if possible). Transfer to a bowl and toss with a little lemon juice to prevent browning. 
3. Melt the butter in a 20cm ovenproof frying pan. Sprinkle in the sugar and cook for 2 mins until it begins to dissolve, then stir in the honey and salt. Arrange all but one of the pear halves in the pan, cut-side up, with the narrowest ends pointing to the centre (you want them to fit snugly, as they’ll shrink during cooking). If there’s a space left in the centre, cut a round from the final pear half and place it, cut-side up, in the space (any remaining pear can be discarded).  
4. Cook the pears over a medium heat for 30 mins: the butter and sugar mixture should energetically bubble away and reduce down to a thick and syrupy, amber-coloured caramel. Shake the pan frequently and, now and then, spoon some of the caramel over the pears. 
5. Remove the pan from the heat and sprinkle over the walnuts and chocolate, filling in any gaps between the pears with the nuts. Cover with the chilled pastry disc, tucking the edges into the sides of the pan with a spoon. Bake for 30 mins, or until puffed and golden. Set aside for 5 mins, then carefully invert onto a plate. Serve immediately with the whipped cream. 

Taken from Cocoa, by Sue Quinn (£25, Quadrille) 

The chocoflan combines two of Mexico’s favourite desserts: chocolate cake and vanilla flan.

Photograph by Quentin Bacon

Chocoflan by Bricia Lopez and Javier Cabral

The chocoflan combines two of Mexico’s favourite desserts: chocolate cake and vanilla flan. Layered one on top of the other, the pair are baked together in a cake tin coated with caramel. Traditionally, recipes call for the chocolate mix to be poured in first so that, thanks to the differing weights of the two batters, it rises to the top during baking and, as if by magic, swaps position with the flan — a defiance of logic that’s led to chocoflan being known as ‘impossible cake’. Here, the flan mixture is poured in first and the chocoflan goes into the oven in the same way it comes out. It remains, however, an impossibly good dessert.

SERVES: 12   
TAKES: 1 hr 

For the caramel
85g white sugar

For the flan
430ml sweetened condensed milk
360ml evaporated milk
225g cream cheese
4 large eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract

For the chocolate cake
3 large eggs
200g white sugar
120ml milk
120ml rapeseed oil
85g plain flour, sifted
25g cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla extract

Start by making the caramel. Combine the sugar and 1 tbsp water in a saucepan set over a medium heat. Stir constantly until it starts to take on a dark-brown colour. Carefully pour the caramel into a 25cm round cake tin, spreading it around to cover the bottom of the tin, then set aside.
2. Put all the flan ingredients into a blender, then lightly blend in bursts for 1 min until combined. Pour the flan mix into the caramel-lined cake tin. 
3. Heat oven to 170C, 150C fan, gas 3½. Put the eggs and sugar in a mixing bowl, then beat with a hand mixer or stand mixer until evenly combined. Add the milk and oil and mix until thickened. Once the ingredients are well combined, lower your mixer’s speed to the lowest setting and tip in the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, 1 tsp salt and, lastly, the vanilla extract. Stop mixing as soon as the flour is mixed in (small clumps are okay). Spoon the batter into the cake tin, making sure it’s evenly distributed over the flan mix.   
4. Fill a roasting pan with water and place the cake tin in it. Bake for 35 mins, or until a fork inserted into the middle comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven and its hot-water bath and leave to cool, then put in the fridge. Serve cold. 

Taken from Oaxaca: Home Cooking from the Heart of Mexico, by Bricia Lopez and Javier Cabral (£30, Abrams)

Published in Issue 10 (winter 2020) of National Geographic Traveller Food

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