Forget fiddly afters on the menu - Richard Fox
looks at easy ways to whip up tasty desserts
Ihave to say that this column is as much a "note to self" as third-party advice or information. I am no pastry chef - few people are (even among those laying claim to the title). Personally, I can't abide making desserts - they are usually the preserve of a few would-be Nigellas with too much time on their hands and who really should get out a little more.
Throw into the equation lengthy prep time, expensive ingredients and unpredictable results, and you may as well give every customer a tenner after their main course, and save yourself the grief.
So, in the face of such overwhelming negativity, why bother going any further with the subject, other than to simply suggest phoning a friend, aka your ready-meal supplier? This would certainly be a viable option, and one with many merits, given the alternatives.
However, if you embrace the spirit and ethos of this column - success through simplicity - the opportunity to achieve something different, tasty and cost-effective is definitely out there. Even in the sticky, murky world of desserts.
The golden rule is to avoid preparing recipes that are unpredictable, no matter how carefully you follow them. So, crème brûlée, lemon tart, chocolate soufflé and any others requiring degrees in chemistry, molecular gastronomy and rocket science in equal proportions are to be avoided. That leaves the tried-and-tested, no-frills, sure-fire guaranteed favourites, such as Maltesers.
I'm not joking - a bag of these heaven-sent edible marbles, crushed and folded into thick whipped cream, will not only lift the plainest of chocolate sponges, but will also read like a golden nugget of temptation on the menu.
This ploy isn't cheating, either - it's innovation. Let's face it, if the deep-fried Mars bar has become the stuff of urban legend, imagine what the humble Malteser could do for your local reputation.
For a luxurious, innovative Malteser-based "Eton mess", just mix the Malteser cream with some crushed meringue and chopped-up strawberries. Don't try to be all prissy and Michelin-starry with the presentation - it should do what it says on your menu.
That is absolutely the point: when it comes to success through simplicity, mess is most definitely more. In fact, when I've prepared this British stalwart for swanky showbiz parties, it's gone down a storm every time.
Moving on laterally, think in terms of tasty, pre-made ingredients, enhanced by a home-made finish.
For example, preparing your own custard from scratch tends to fall into the rocket-science category.
But the powdered stuff easily achieves that home-made taste if you substitute water (as stated on the packet) for milk. This cuts out the risk of lumps, wateriness or concrete consistency. If you really want to push the sauce boat out, add a split vanilla pod and seeds.
Using this custard, have a go at creating a good old-fashioned sherry trifle. Substitute Maltesers with Smarties in the whipped cream, and you've given a kitsch, modernist twist to a timeless classic. When it comes to these packet-sweet additions, look at McDonald's flurry to see the proof in the pudding.
Whole, fresh fruit, a dessert about as appetising as - well, whole, fresh vegetables - can turn into a winner with nothing more than perfunctory cooking and a tasty little sauce.
Think pears poached in a sugar and water solution; bananas cut in half and topped with brown sugar and grilled or a cored apple filled with sugar and sultanas and baked in the oven. Chocolate sauce, ice cream and butterscotch sauce respectively give these three fruits a finish worthy of a fine dessert menu.
Remember, where there's a will - and a Malteser - there's a way. Bonne chance!