This story originally appeared on The Spinoff and has been republished with permission.
Catherine Woulfe makes good on a reckless vow.
Six months ago I cooked and ranked every pudding in the Edmonds book. Evidently delirious on white sugar and raisins, I also made a promise: to come back in summer and do the cold desserts section.
Now I stand in front of you, just a girl with a jelly mould, asking you to follow her into an opaque and quivering world.
After the puddings ranking went up, a PR person sent me an Edmonds spatula and a kids' cookbook and gently let me know certain recipes have been updated since 1998. Which is great, but irrelevant, because who uses a new Edmonds book? We use the edition that was pressed tearfully into our suitcases as we left home. So: 1998.
In 1998, Edmonds was offering 18 cold desserts. Most are jellies of a kind, but there's also pavlova and trifle, both of which I urge you not to cook this Christmas. Throughout, there's a lot of whipping until stiff, a lot of chilling, a lot of dubious combining of dairy with other dairy. Do you like cream? Best you like cream. Also jelly crystals and custard and eggs. You'll need 30 of those. Plus 14 cups of milk.
Like the puddings before them, the cold desserts do have their good points. This section is the only place you'll see the words "wet mould" outside of the Wellington rental market. Further, lots of the names are enjoyable to say. Flummery. Fruit Flan. Blancmange, which sounds like a curse, blah-monj! They also have an air of the bizarre, like fungi or sea anemones. Bring a Melrose Cream to a barbecue and at least you'll have something to talk about. (Don't, though).
Content warning for vegans: lots of these desserts function like meatless turduckens. They're simply layer upon layer of animal products. I thought about this too much, and like the animal products the thoughts compounded, peaking with the penultimate dessert I made, Spanish Cream. Mix the yolks and the milk, add gelatine, fold through clouds of billowy egg whites. Blah-monj!
It was lockdown so I had a lot of "help" from the kids, but rest assured there was minimal spillage or midpoint bowl-licking or general interference in recipes. We gave a lot of desserts away after a taste test and they didn't even mind, inured as they were after the winter puddings bonanza. The seven-year-old is apparently a jaded restaurant critic now; he maintained a bored intellectual distance and went around saying things like, "I mean this is not bad, I just think Edmonds need to understand about flavours."
As previously, I've treated the recipes as gospel. No tweaks, no substitutions, no letting culinary common sense trump the aged ring-bound cookbook*. Exception: pineapple jelly crystals seem to have gone the way of lead-painted toys. So for the Pineapple Snow, I used tropical jelly instead.
*When the puddings ranking was published, misguided devotees of chocolate self-saucing pudding defended the recipe by saying things like "I usually double the sauce" or "halve the cooking time, dingbat". Solid advice – I've been making this pud since I was seven and routinely double, if not triple, the sauce – but in this instance, wrongheaded. If you have to fundamentally change a recipe to make it work, it is not a good recipe. Especially when the book's whole brand is failsafe basics.
18. Apricot Marshmallow
The biscuits section of the Edmonds book famously starts with Afghans and they're A for amazing. The puddings section starts with Apple Pie, which is more O and K for just OK.
The cold desserts section starts forebodingly with a recipe that largely comprises pureed canned apricots and stiff egg whites and tastes like stomach acid.
The texture, you ask? Well, when I was a kid we had spitbugs in our garden. They blow bubbles out their bums until they've got a frothy little dollop to hide in. I estimate it would take about 3,000 spitbugs to make a bowl of Apricot Marshmallow.
17. Ice-Cream Pudding
Veto. Has the mouthfeel and taste of sodden white bread. Undoubtedly they serve it for lunch-pudding at a rest home near you.
16. Melrose Cream
The glamour of that name! Phwoar.
Here's how you make it, though. Mix up a packet jelly. Make a powder custard. When they are both still viscous, combine the two. Abandon all notion of glamour, for this is a visceral, curdling task. Unnatural. If you've ever had mastitis you're definitely going to think about that. "The mixing of the humours," whispered my husband.
The finished product has an unnatural gloss and smells like a Strawberry Shortcake doll that's been fortified with Impulse.
Everyone in my family has forgotten what this was actually like, although the ingredients (jelly crystals, boiling water, evaporated milk) indicate: not good. So does this photograph, taken after one day in the fridge.
I do remember being absolutely enchanted by the design of the evaporated milk can. Smooth, even flow, no mess, best decanting experience of my life.
14. Creme Caramel
These look pretty great, right?
Cool, let's see what they're like when you turn them out!
Correct, that is a large amount of toffee adhered to the bottom of the ramekin*. This at least kept the seven-year-old occupied for a significant part of day 93 of lockdown.
*There was no instruction to grease the ramekins. Nor was there any candy thermometer or time indication involved for the toffee, just the instruction to boil "until golden". Yes I am pedantic but I'm also genuinely trying, I thought greasing the ramekin might for some alchemy reason be a no-no.
I have made dozens of pavlovas in my life. Possibly hundreds. The recipes I've used have been pretty interchangeable because pavs are straightforward: beat some egg whites! Slowly put in a shitload of caster sugar! Fold in vinegar, vanilla and cornflour, bung it in the oven, voila you're done and you've just won Christmas.
So I was slightly alarmed that this recipe called for cold water. You beat in three tablespoons once the egg whites are stiff, before starting on the sugar. Oh well, I thought, perhaps it's for the purpose of stretching the mixture? It looked fine as it went into the oven.
It did not look fine as it came out. Remember the ad where that guy was like "that's not a cake, that's a small windowless building". Hmm. This pavlova achieved the impossible: although its flatness was approaching absolute, it nonetheless managed to collapse. I was left scooping cream into a crater, thinking about Escher paintings and melting ice sheets.
12. Marinated Strawberries
Someone in the test kitchen had a fatal soft spot for orange rind. There's way too much of it in this recipe (two teaspoons versus one punnet of strawbs), just as there was in the Yoghurt Cream, a lowlight of the puddings section.
11. Pineapple Snow
An audaciously sweet, highlighter-yellow jelly to which you add egg whites beaten until stiff. You'll be doing that a lot, by the way – adding raw egg fluff is to the cold desserts section what creaming butter and sugar is to baking.
"It's like a delicious pineapple bubble bath," said my friend. She's very kind, though.
10. Orange and Lemon Pudding
As above, a jelly (this time made with fresh juices and gelatine) to which you add stiff egg whites for a weird frothy top layer. The yolks are in there too, beaten raw into the juice and gelatine. Yum.
Not. I was repulsed. It struck me as a vapid, jellied lemon curd, and reminded me of being a kid and Mum insisting we water our Raro down twice as weak as the packet said. My son, however, adored it. So, a lesson in subjectivity, at least.
9. Sherry Trifle
Stodgy and school-camp bland, of course, and it has none of your fancy fresh boysenberries or Instagram layers, but also fine? I gave it away on the community Facebook page and someone else's kids nailed the whole enormous bowlful within 40 minutes.
We have officially reached the yum section of this ranking, the ecstatic upward tick.
Sorbet's never been my favourite – it tends to be a bit mouth-hurty – but as far as sorbets go, the Edmonds version is perfectly acceptable. You can choose your fruit ("eg grapes, boysenberries, plums, strawberries"); we used big ripe bird-pecked strawberries.
NB You have to get it in the freezer within moments of finishing mixing or you'll get a hard layer of fruit at the bottom. It's also annoying in that you have to check it heaps while it's in the freezer the first time – definitely not a spray-and-walk-away kind of deal.
7. Spanish Cream
This is the one that's essentially a dairy-based turducken. And yet … it's also one of my favourite desserts of all time. Cold vanilla custard. Squishy vanilla clouds. I forgot to take a photo until it was nearly all nommed.
The only reason it's not ranked higher is because its yumminess was entirely expected. Also, turducken.
6. Ginger Bavarian Cream
Basically Spanish Cream but with whipped cream involved, and lots of chopped glace ginger. Da-vine, as your mum (and mine) started saying all the time circa 2017.
5. Fruit Flan
In times of stress I shall henceforth turn to flan-making. The crinkle of baking paper, the sssssh as you tip in the baking-blind rice. The stirring of the custard, which took for actual ever – well, I got through five chapters of Greta and Valdin. The pressing of strawberries and kiwifruit into that custard. It's a shit pattern you made but who cares, because here comes the best bit: reverently painting the whole thing with hot apricot jam.
The nice woman who lent me a jelly mould picked cheesecake as her payment. I'm going to have to make another one because we ate the whole thing in about half a day. Just a really great basic slightly lemony cheesecake, good proportions, held together well, I approve and my arteries hate me.
3. Easy Chocolate Mousse
My husband went missing after dinner on mousse night. The kids found him in the toddler's room, face in the mousse bowl, inhaling at pace.
An utterly unpromising recipe – you heat a couple of cups of milk with cornflour and minimal sugar, add a bit of vanilla at the end and stick it in the fridge to set.
And yet, I promise, it is extremely good. A serene, impenetrable white, with a nice firm set and a deliciously cool milkshake-lolly taste. The recipe says to serve with fruit but I also recommend serving it in perfect isolation.
I made this immediately after the Ice-Cream Pudding and was not expecting much.
What I got was a revelation. Edmonds Ice-Cream is the best ice cream I have tasted, let alone made. It's like what you'd imagine ice cream to be like if you'd never actually had it, only read about it in books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Not overly sweet, perfectly creamy, with a wonderful light feel in the mouth, almost like melty meringue. (At the end you do, as ever, mix in a bunch of egg-white fluff).
It's also ludicrously easy to make. No messing around like with the sorbet, you just beat three bowls of stuff: yolks and sugar; whites and sugar; cream. Then mix 'em and stick it in the freezer. Bang, done, behold: a dessert so good it redeems all those that came before.