This was one of the all-time favourites in the original Simply Delicious Christmas, so it certainly makes it into the revised edition. This time we had the greatest fun experimenting with a chocolate caramel and popcorn tree. It's delicious to nibble, and even relatively nutritious so there's an extra feel good factor!
- 500g (1lb 2oz) best-quality dark chocolate
- 100g (3 1/2oz) whole almonds, peeled and roasted
- 100g (3 1/2oz) hazelnuts, peeled and roasted
- 45g (1 3/4oz) raisins
- 3-4oz (75-110g) dark chocolate for assembling the tree
- 3 teaspoons icing sugar
- Christmas cake decorations, e.g. Santa, robin, holly etc.
- Drop the almonds into a saucepan of boiling water and boil for 2 minutes or until the skins loosen; drain. Put the almonds into a tea-towel, gather up the edges tightly and rub the almonds to get off the skins. Spread out on baking sheet and bake in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, until dry and golden, 15 minutes approx.
- Meanwhile, spread the hazelnuts on another tray and bake in a hot oven, 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8, for 15 minutes approx. until the skins loosen. Rub off the skins in a tea-towel in the same way as the almonds, return to the oven and bake until golden, about 15-20 minutes.
- Prepare the trays to make the branches of the tree. Cover 3 baking trays or large Swiss roll tins with tin foil. Draw out crosses on the foil. Leave 5 or 7.5 cm (2 or 3 inches) between each cross. The measurements of the crosses are: 7cm (2 3/4 inches), 9cm (3 1/2 inches), 11cm (4 1/4 inches), 13cm (5 1/4 inches), 14cm (5 3/4 inches), 15cm (6 inches), 16 cm (6 1/2 inches), 17cm (6 3/4 inches), 18cm (7 inches).
- Prepare a serving plate for the tree: it must be rigid, absolutely flat and strong enough to support the tree. Cover with tin foil. Mark one of the 18cm (7 inches) crosses on this base.
- When the nuts are all golden, allow to cool and chop roughly. Mix with the raisins.
- When all the preparation is done, melt the chocolate very carefully in a very low oven or in a Pyrex bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir in the nuts and raisins, mix well. Using a teaspoon, drop small teaspoons of the chocolate mixture along the marked crosses (do the base board first and put in the fridge to set while you do the others, in order of size from the biggest to the smallest). When all the crosses have set absolutely firmly (30 minutes approx.), melt the remaining chocolate over a low heat. Put a teaspoon of melted chocolate onto the centre of the cross on the base board, and stick the next largest cross on top so that the points are in between the points of the previous cross.
- While that is setting (supported with a matchbox if necessary), drop another teaspoon of chocolate on top of the second cross to form a basis for the next layer. Refrigerate for a few minutes. Meanwhile stick the remaining 8 crosses together in pairs in the same way and allow to set. Add another teaspoon of melted chocolate and put the next largest pair of crosses on top, angling them so the branches are arranged alternately. Continue to assemble until the tree is finished, however do it gradually: it is essential that each section is completely set before topping with another layer.
Decorate the board with Christmas decorations and dust the tree lightly with sieved icing sugar.