No-bake, last-minute desserts for Christmas

It is probably the worst time to tear down the kitchen. Four days before Christmas and all that's standing at one end of the open-plan living space is the old sink, pipes showing through a door-less cabinet. Since I haven't yet decided on the new fixtures and layout, the handyman had to leave the sink purely for practical reasons.

With the big oven gone, what I miss the most is not being able to bake bread. This doesn't, however, mean I would have to forgo cakes that would normally be baked. In fact, instead of a heat source, what you'll need is a refrigerator!

So for everyone who finds themselves in the same boat without an oven, or have left their dessert preparation to the last minute, you may want to consider one of these no-bake desserts.

You might be familiar with the local non-baked favourite called Kek Batik, named for the obvious resemblance to the traditional fabric print. It's made with broken Marie biscuits combined with a chocolate sauce or runny custard made with egg, condensed milk and Milo. In Britain, there's the Hedgehog Slice, which is made in a similar way with rich tea biscuits and a sugar syrup flavoured with cocoa. It's been said that this simple dessert is Queen Elizabeth II's favourite tea cake!

Our recipe is more like the Hedgehog, with nuts and a chocolate ganache topping added. The biscuits used are wholemeal digestives. The cake is made in a round tin, and cut into wedges. A lot of people I served the cake to thought it was actually baked.

A biscuit cake with a long history is the old-fashioned icebox cake. The title clearly states how it's made, and traditionally, it comprises only two ingredients: Biscuits (or cookies) are layered with whipped cream in the shape of a round cake, and refrigerated. Once the cookies soften, the "cake" is easier to slice - here's your cookies and cream in a very pretty presentation.

We have taken our frosting for icebox cake one notch up by adding cream cheese. I think it's more tasty with cream cheese, but more important, it is more stable and allows the cake to be stored for longer - although I'm not sure it will last very long when you serve it! If you're into fancy cake decoration, go crazy with your piping bag.

An unusual feature of our cake is how the biscuits are arranged. We use chocolate sandwich cookies, sandwich them together with frosting and lay them in a baking tin on their sides. Slice into the cake diagonally to see the pretty vertical brown and white stripes.

A no-bake pie is another dessert that is quite easy to throw together. Like the biscuit and icebox cakes above, we again use biscuits, this time in the crust. To be honest, I wanted to keep this an all-coconut pie, but couldn't find any coconut biscuits and decided the next best thing would be gingernuts.

The filling, while containing egg yolk, is a cooked custard, unlike some of the mousse-type pie fillings. If coconut is not your thing, cream can be used instead of coconut milk and melted chocolate could be added for flavour, for instance. Or make it into a lime flavoured pie - citrus and coconut is another tasty combination.

The meringue topping, when made right, is soft and billowy. For the whisking step, an electric mixer is essential because a hand whisk and manual power just won't get the job done well.

The part I like best - purely optional, of course - is getting to use my kitchen torch to toast the meringue. The smell of caramelising sugar is intoxicating, plus I get to play with fire! Leave the meringue plain and white if you can't do the torching, or sprinkle toasted coconut on top if you like. Either way, this makes one impressive-looking dessert.

Recipes

No-bake Chocolate Biscuit Cake

400g wholemeal digestive biscuits

50g walnuts, toasted

100g sugar

30g cocoa powder

120ml water

75g butter

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Chocolate Ganache

100g whipping cream

100g chocolate, chopped

Break the biscuits into quarters. Chop or break the walnuts into smaller chunks.

In a large saucepan, combine sugar and cocoa powder. Gradually add water, stirring constantly to blend. Add the butter. Bring to the boil over medium heat. Keep boiling until thickened, 7-8 minutes. Take off the heat and add vanilla extract. Cool slightly.

Add the biscuits and nuts to the pan and combine well using a large spatula or spoon.

Line an 18cm round tin with cling film. Scrape the biscuit mixture into the tin and press down well with a rubber spatula until top is even. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Prepare the chocolate ganache: Place chocolate in a small bowl.

Heat cream in a small saucepan until it just begins to boil. Pour over the chocolate and let sit for 1 minute. Stir until smooth.The ganache will thicken as it sits.

Remove cake from tin and place on a serving place. Remove cling film.

This next step is optional: Make a collar from aluminium foil and wrap around the cake.Pour ganache over the cake and refrigerate to set for 3-4 hours or overnight before serving. Alternatively, simply pour the ganache over the cake.

Serves 10

No-bake Icebox Cake

250ml whipping cream

2 tbsp icing sugar

150g cream cheese

260g round chocolate sandwich cookies

Preferred garnish

Beat the cream and icing sugar until thick and fluffy. In a separate mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth and light. Add the cream cheese to the cream in three batches, whisking well after each addition.

Line an 18cmx10cm loaf pan with cling film. Spread about 1/3 cup frosting in the bottom of the tin.

Sandwich the cookies together with the frosting and arrange them in the tin on their sides. You should have two rows. Fill the gap between the rows with a little frosting and spread the top with about 1/2 cup of frosting. (There should be a bit more than a cup of frosting left over for the decoration. Leave in the fridge until ready to decorate.)

Cover the tin with cling film and chill until firm, 1-2 hours.

Remove the cake from the tin and place on a serving dish. Remove the cling film. Decorate with the extra frosting and garnish as desired (coffee beans are used here). Chill to set the frosting.

To serve, cut the cake on the diagonal to reveal the vertical lines of the cookies.

Serves 10

No-bake Coconut Ginger Meringue Pie

Crust

170g gingernut biscuits (alternatively, use coconut biscuits for an all-coconut pie)

75g unsalted butter, melted

3 tbsp shredded or dessicated coconut, toasted

Filling

2 medium egg yolks

1 and a 1/2 tbsp custard powder

250ml coconut milk

90ml sweetened condensed milk

Meringue

2 medium egg whites

salt

2 tbsp caster sugar

2 tbsp icing sugar, sifted

Make the crust: Place the biscuits in a plastic bag and crush until fine.

Alternatively, do this in a food processor. Combine with the melted butter to resemble wet sand. Transfer to a greased 18cm or 20cm pie/tart dish (preferably with a removable bottom). Using the back of a spoon, press the mixture evenly into the base and up the sides of the dish. Chill for 30 minutes.

Spread toasted coconut evenly on the base.

Make the filling: In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks and custard until smooth.

Combine coconut milk and condensed milk in a medium saucepan. Over medium low heat, bring to a bare simmer. Whisking constantly, gradually add milk mixture to egg mixture,then, still whisking, pour egg mixture into pan. Cook over medium heat, still whisking, until mixture thickens. Spread custard onto biscuit base. Chill until set, about 2 hours.

Make the meringue: Place egg whites n a mixing bowl with a pinch of salt. Using an electric mixer, whisk on high until foamy, about 1 minute. With motor running, gradually add caster sugar and beat until stiff, shiny peaks form, about 5 minutes. Gradually add icing sugar and beat another 2 minutes.

Spoon meringue over pie, swirling decoratively. If you have a blowtorch, use it to toast the meringue.