I've been lucky enough to be able to review several Christmas desserts from Waitrose this year, two of which were created by UK celebrity chef Heston Blementhal. For those of you living outside the UK, or are who are just not unfamiliar with Heston, he's basically a real life Willy Wonka. His creations are like little science experiments - many of which I find a little too out there, but his creations for Waitrose are suited more to the general public.
If you live in the UK, you may remember the infamous Christmas pudding he created last year exclusively for Waitrose. It had an entire candied orange hidden inside, which infused the pudding with a delicious citrus flavour. When you cut into the pudding you also got a cross section of candied orange as well. Heston's Candied Orange Christmas Pudding sold out within days, and immediately began springing up on eBay for hundreds of pounds. The same has happened this year, although the average price seems to be between £15 - £30.
This year Heston has created several new Christmas desserts including a Chocolate Popping Candy Tart, a Chocolate and Cherry Blackforest Buche, and Puff Pastry Mince Pies With Pine Sugar Dusting.
I was fortunate enough to try out Heston's Popping Candy Tart and his Pine Scented Mince Pies, as well as a Christmas Pudding Cheesecake by Waitrose's own label.
First up I tried the Waitrose Christmas Pudding Cheesecake. I had wanted to try it ever since hearing about it at the Waitrose Christmas product launch way back in the summer. Although it wasn't available to sample on the day, I thought the concept was great. The cheesecake comes in a neat dome shape, just like a real Christmas pudding. It had a delicious graham cracker / digestive base, and the actual cheesecake bit was so light and fluffy in texture. It was loosely studded with candied orange peel, raisins and pieces of Christmas pudding, but the flavour was not too strong or overwhelming, although the chocolate topping did taste a bit boozey. My husband and I both really liked the cheesecake, partially because the Christmas pudding flavour was quite mild, making it a perfect alternative if you or your guests aren't that fond of the traditional Christmas pudding. The Waitrose Christmas Pudding Cheesecake sells for £6.99 and serves approximately 6 people.
Next I tried the popping candy tart which is described as "a tart that will literally dance on your tongue. First you will be seduced by the luxurious velvety dark chocolate that has been infused with an exotic passion fruit puree, a direct contrast to the crunchy hazelnut base. As your mouth begins to water the real surprise element begins as the popping candy begins to crackle and tingle on your tongue."
The description above is fairly accurate. The chocolate is so rich and velvety smooth, with just a hint of passion fruit, making you want to savour every last bit in your mouth. And that's when the popping candy hits you! There's just enough snap, crackle and pop to know it's there, but not so much that it's like you dumped an entire packet of the stuff into your mouth (like we all did when we were kids!). I would definitely recommend Heston's popping candy tart as a special Christmas treat. I also think it would make an even better dessert option for New Years Eve, although I'm not sure if it will still be available in stores then, but it's worth checking. Personally, I think the only drawback to the popping candy tart would be the price. Maybe it's just me, but £16.99 for a 10 serving tart seems a little steep for a prepared supermarket dessert. I guess it just depends on how much you like your friends and family :-)
Lastly I tried Heston's pine scented mince pies, which he describes as "delicious eaten warm from the oven, and then sprinkled with pine sugar for a Christmas tree aroma." Unlike a conventional mince pie, Heston's version is incased in puff pastry rather than a normal tart shell. The mince pies come with a generous sized packet of pine scented icing sugar that really does smell exactly like pine, so much so, that I initially found it a little off putting because it smelled like a household cleaner. After dipping my finger into it and giving it a taste, I decided that I actually quite liked the pine sugar. It had a nice subtle pine flavour, with a minty aftertaste. I was really excited to give these mince pies a try, but in all honesty I found them a bit disappointing. Perhaps it's because I've never been a huge puff pasty fan, but I found the pastry a bit bland - I think the pies would have been better in a traditional tart shell. There was too much puff pastry, and not enough filling inside, but I really did like the pine sugar. I think next year Heston could have a real winner if he kept the novelty of the pine sugar, but used a regular tart shell. At £3.29 for 6, they're definitely more expensive than the average mince pies, but they won't break the bank either if you're looking to try a little something different.
At first I sprinkled the pine sugar on quite sparingly, but don't be afraid of it. Next time I'd cover the tops in the sugar!
So what are YOU having for Christmas dessert?