Pastry chef Aoife Noonan knows a thing or two about creating show-stopping desserts for the big day.

"This is a fun cake to have at a Christmas party as everyone can share and help themselves, while it looks great as a centre-piece. The idea is that everyone breaks off their own meringue and some fruit and dips it into the chestnut cream." - Aoife Noonan

Aoife's French meringue Christmas tree with chestnut cream, chocolate sauce and marzipan fruit baubles recipe makes 35 meringues 

Ingredients

  • 18 egg whites or 540g egg whites
  • 1kg caster sugar

For the chestnut cream

  • 200g chestnut purée
  • 2 tablespoons Cognac
  • 250ml cream
  • 30g sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped

For the chocolate sauce

  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 50ml cream
  • 300ml water
  • 150g dark chocolate, chopped or broken into small pieces

To decorate

  • Marzipan fruits, available in gourmet stores
  • 50g melted chocolate
  • Icing sugar, to finish

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 120ºC/gas mark ½. Line three baking trays with parchment paper. Make the meringues by putting the egg whites into a clean mixing bowl in a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Start to whisk the egg whites on a low speed until frothy, then begin to add the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, until all of the sugar has been added. Continue to whisk the egg whites until the meringue has reached stiff peaks.
  2. Place the meringue in a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle and pipe nests of meringue onto the trays. Bake the meringues for 90 minutes in the oven. Once baked, turn off the oven and allow the meringues to cool completely and dry out in the oven.
  3. To make the chestnut cream, place the chestnut purée and Cognac in a bowl and mix until smooth. In a separate bowl, whisk the cream, sugar and vanilla seeds together until soft peaks form. Gently fold the cream into the chestnut purée until thoroughly combined. Chill until required.
  4. Put the cocoa powder, cream and water into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Once boiling, pour the liquid over the chocolate and mix thoroughly to combine, ensuring the chocolate is fully melted. Keep warm or chill until required.
  5. Attach meringues to a styrofoam or card cone using the melted chocolate, building from the bottom up, to create a tree shape. Attach marzipan fruits to the tree using the melted chocolate, holding each one in place until set.
  6. Once the meringues and marzipan fruit are set, drizzle the tree with the chocolate sauce, and dust with icing sugar. Serve the chestnut cream in a bowl alongside the meringue tree.

TIP- The chestnut cream can be made two to three days in advance.

Photography: Brian Clarke, assisted by Harry Weir