Italian cakes can give a tasty alternative to the traditional fayre

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I have a very long mental list of good intentions, one of which is to write down all the recipes I’ve acquired and where they came from.

The reality is that I’ll put on a coat that hasn’t seen the light of day for six months and pull out a random piece of paper with a list of ingredients but no clue to it’s provenance. This happened this week and the recipe serendipitously turned out to be for an Italian spice cake great to be served at Christmas. There was no method just ingredients, but it turned out a treat. Italian cakes are fabulous – dense, rich and not too sweet.

The original recipe didn’t have fruit, but I added some hazelnut liqueur soaked raisins to good effect. Hot chocolate sauce and a dollop of cream later and you have a zippy, spicy alternative to our traditional fruity Christmas cake.

Don’t get me wrong I love all our traditional puddings and cakes but a belly full of turkey and ham is not conducive to eating a marzipan and icing laden rich confection!

Also now that Christmas starts in early November, we’re always looking for something different when it actually comes to the big day. Baked white chocolate cheesecake is something I make regularly from a recipe I acquired many years ago in America (from another coat pocket!) It’s a New York style one – so even though it’s essentially cream cheese and white chocolate, the addition of eggs and sour cream actually lighten it. Don’t try to substitute low fat cream cheese as it’ll be an international flop. Also this recipe is great for freezing – bake it, wrap in cling and freeze until you need it (another of the joys of full fat is that it freezes very well).

The American novelist Daniel Handler, writing as Lemony Snicket said: “Some people think destiny is something you cannot escape, such as death or a curdled cheesecake, both of which always turn up sooner or later.” This needn’t be the case if you follow the recipe and don’t overcook it!

This cheesecake is also a great vehicle for other ingredients and at this time of year works well with the addition of a few spices and citrus zest. Or you could leave it as it is and just have it with the cherry compote in the recipe.

Cherry cheesecake reminds me of my Granny – although she made hers from a packet it still has great memories for me. I think she’d have approved of mine though....