Just Desserts

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Make the most wonderful time of the year even sweeter with these decadent recipes.

INTRO BY NANCY D. LACKEY SHAFFER
PHOTOS BY VIKTOR BUDNIK

The holidays simply aren’t complete without something sweet. And while we’d never thumb our noses at a good, traditional pumpkin pie, we knew our local chefs could come up with other options that celebrated the season while offering something a little bit different. From the effortlessly easy to the spectacularly elegant, there’s something for every taste and skill level here. So roll up your sleeves, grab the butter, flour and sugar and head into the kitchen to bake up some delicious decadence!

WINTER WONDERLAND CHOCOLATE

PEPPERMINT LAYER CAKE
Chef Alison Kenis
Sugar Lab Bake Shop
5936 Telegraph Road, Ventura, 805.765.4292, www.sugarlabbakeshop.com

This dreamy cake from Sugar Lab’s owner and pastry chef extraordinaire Alison Kenis is sure to be a showstopper on any holiday table. More involved and time consuming than your typical dessert, it’s true — but for those who like a challenge, the results are worth it. Winter white with a sparkling finish (thanks to sanding sugar) and decorated with white roses, green leaves and red berries (all made from buttercream, of course), it’s as festive and elegant as the season itself.

Note: It’s best to use a standing mixer and kitchen scale for this recipe. If you don’t have a scale, you’ll need to convert many of the quantities (listed by weight) to volume. Most cookbooks have conversion tables, and there are many available online as well.

Kenis uses cardboard cake circles and Wilton brand piping tips, both usually available at baking supply and craft stores (such as Michael’s).

CHOCOLATE PEPPERMINT CAKE
(Makes two 6-inch round cakes)

14.2 ounces granulated sugar
8 ounces cake flour
3 ounces natural cocoa powder
-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup milk, room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/2 cup boiling water

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a mixing bowl, sift together sugar, cake flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir well until combined.
  3. Set up a standing mixer. With the mixer running, slowly add eggs, milk, vegetable oil, and extracts until combined. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed to ensure the ingredients are well mixed.
  4. Slowly add boiling water until mixed.
  5. Grease two 6-inch cake pans with butter and dust lightly with flour, or use a cake release.
  6. Bake cakes for about 35-45 minutes. Insert a toothpick into the cake to test for doneness. You are looking for the toothpick to be without any wet crumbs. (Some crumbs are okay.)
  7. Let cakes cool until the pans are cool enough to handle. This cake has a tendency to stick to the pan, so it’s best to remove while still slightly warm. Carefully remove the cake from the pans and wrap each layer in plastic wrap.
  8. Refrigerate the cakes for several hours or overnight.

PEPPERMINT MARSHMALLOW BUTTERCREAM FILLING

8 ounces butter, unsalted
1 can (7 ounces) marshmallow fluff
8 ounces powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

  1. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, mix together butter and marshmallow fluff.
  2. Slowly add powdered sugar and extracts.
  3. Once fully combined, mix on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  4. SWISS MERINGUE BUTTERCREAM FROSTING

1 pound + 2.9 ounces egg whites (can be fresh or pasteurized)
1 pound + 5.3 ounces granulated sugar
Three pinches of salt
3 pounds of butter, room temperature
3 tablespoons vanilla extract.

  1. Bring about an inch of water in a saucepan to a simmer.
  2. In the bowl of your stand mixer, whisk together eggs whites, sugar and salt.
  3. Put bowl on top of the saucepan and whisk constantly until the mixer reaches 160 degrees, when the mixer is warm and the sugar has dissolved.
  4. Add bowl to your stand mixer with the whisk attachment. Beat on high until stiff peaks form and the bowl is cool to the touch, about 10 to 12 minutes.
  5. Reduce speed to low and add butter slowly to the meringue until incorporated.
  6. Switch to the paddle attachment and add in vanilla extract. Mix on low until buttercream is smooth and silky.

ASSEMBLY OF CAKE

  1. Remove plastic wrap from cake. Level cakes using a serrated knife.
  2. Cut cakes in half by slicing horizontally.
  3. Attach bottom cake layer to a 6-inch cardboard cake circle with a dab of buttercream. Add preferred amount of buttercream between the layers of cake, typically . cup per layer for a 6-inch cake.
  4. Once all cake layers have been added with buttercream, add a thin crumb coat to set the crumbs. Refrigerate until buttercream is firm.
  5. Add final layer of buttercream, about . of an inch around the sides and top. Refrigerate.

DECORATING

Note: You’ll need clear sanding sugar for the sparkling finish, as well as food coloring to make brown, green and red buttercream. Be sure to keep some of it white, though!

  1. Make white buttercream roses. Using a tip 12 and flower nail fitted with a square of parchment paper, pipe a cone of buttercream, about the size of a Hershey’s kiss, onto a piece of parchment paper. With a tip 104, pipe a rose center around the tip of the cone. Then pipe three petals, followed by five petals, and then seven petals. Repeat to create a total of four roses. Set the parchment paper with the buttercream roses in the refrigerator.
  2. Remove cake from refrigerator. Add cake to your final cake board or cake plate. Add clear sanding sugar to the sides of the cake.
  3. Color a small amount of buttercream brown. Using a tip 233, pipe a circle wreath about . inch from the edge of the cake.
  4. Add white buttercream roses (from the refrigerator) to the top of the wreath.
  5. Color a small amount of buttercream green and use this to add leaves to the roses and the wreath, using a tip 352.
  6. Color a small amount of buttercream red. Using a tip 5, pipe round red berries onto the wreath.
  7. To add the final decorations to the side of the cake, pipe a ball of white buttercream where the cake meets the cake board. Pipe petals (as in Step 1 above) to create a rose on top of the buttercream, and add green leaves around the petals and some red berries as garnish.
  8. Sprinkle clear sanding sugar on top of the wreath to add some sparkle.

CRANBERRY POACHED PEAR QUICK BREAD WITH PECAN CRUMB

Chef Anastashia Chavez
2686 Kitchen
2686 Loma Vista Road, Ventura, 805.643.7444,
www.the2686.com

Anastashia Chavez of 2686 Kitchen in Midtown Ventura loves something simple yet festive for the holidays. “I’m definitely the more rustic, at-home type with a twist,” the pastry chef says. “I generally use colors naturally brought out through ingredients, like the brightness of citrus or the red of a cranberry. My family — especially my grandma and great grandma — has always had certain holiday staples that we bake and have handed down through generations. That’s my go-to!” This sweet quick bread (made without yeast) is filled with seasonal flavors — pears, spice, cranberries, nuts — and very easy to prepare.

Makes two loaves

15 ounces granulated sugar
7.5 ounces dark brown sugar
6 eggs
12 fluid ounces canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
22.5 ounces all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
12 ounces sour cream

22.5 ounces pear purée (see recipe below)
2 cups fresh cranberries tossed in 1 tablespoon
flour
Pecan crumb topping (see recipe below)

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Grease two 9 inch x 5 inch loaf pans, and dust lightly with flour.
  3. In a mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the sugars and eggs together for 5 minutes until light and fluffy.
  4. Slowly add in the canola oil and vanilla and beat for another 3 minutes until emulsified.
  5. Mix in the dry ingredients until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and then add in the pear purée, sour cream and cranberries. Mix until combined.
  6. Divide evenly between the prepared loaf pans.

  7. Generously top with the pecan crumb topping (see recipe below) and bake for about 45 minutes or until a knife comes out clean. Cool and enjoy!

Best served warm. Makes two loaves.

PEAR PUREE
Poaching Liquid:

1/2 liter sweet wine, such as Vin Santo
1 cup sugar
1 orange, sliced
1 lemon, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
5 whole cloves
1 star anise
5 pounds Bosc Pears, peeled

Bring all poaching liquid ingredients to a boil in a pot and then add the pears. Simmer until the pears are tender, about 20 minutes. Strain the liquid. (It can be reused for more poaching, or pan reduced to a tasty syrup.) Place the fruit on a sheet tray to cool. Once cooled, cube and core the pears, then place into a blender and purée.

PECAN CRUMB TOPPING

6 ounces granulated sugar
3 ounces brown sugar
12 ounces flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup crushed pecans
6 ounces butter, cubed

Mix all dry ingredients in mixer with a paddle attachment and then add in the butter. Mix until crumbly, and set aside.

PEANUT BRITTLE
Chef Julia San Bartolome
Sweet Arleen’s
960 South Westlake Blvd., #4, Westlake Village,
805.373.7373, www.sweetarleens.com

Sweet Arleen’s owner Julia San Bartolome gained fame as part of the team that took home top honors three times on Food Networks’ Cupcake Wars, but here she ditches cake for a collection of gourmet confections ideal for chocolate lovers and candy cravers of all ages.

The humble peanut gets star treatment in this concoction. “This is the exact recipe we used on camera for our debut on Food Networks’ Cupcake Wars ,” San Bartolome says. The toasted, salty, crunchy combination led us to our first victory and even landed our cupcakes in the hands of celebrities at the LA Film Festival.”

12 ounces salted, roasted whole peanuts
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 ounce unsalted butter
2 tablespooons baking soda

  1. Spray a full sheet pan with nonstick spray and set aside.
  2. Combine peanuts, sugar and corn syrup in a medium saucepan. Set over mediumhigh heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly and scraping the sides of the pan with a rubber spatula. Mixture should be white and foamy.
  3. When sugar begins to carmelize, continue to stir to ensure even cooking.
  4. Once the mixture is browning, remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the butter first, then stir in the baking soda. The mixture will begin to foam up, so mix quickly!
  5. Pour onto the prepared baking pan.
  6. Allow to cool for one hour, then store in an airtight environment.

TIPS

  • Be gentle when mixing, so as to not break up peanuts more than you have to.
  • Use a rubber spatula to spread the mixture as evenly as possible over the prepared sheet pan.
  • Mixture will be VERY hot — use caution when handling a fresh batch!
  • Be sure to store the peanut brittle in an airtight environment IMMEDIATELY once it has cooled.

ALMOND ROCA

“Our family has many important holiday traditions, and this is absolutely one of the most special,” San Bartolome says of her chocolate and almond treat. “My mom has been making homemade hard candy every Christmas for over 35 years.” It’s as popular with Sweet Arleen’s customers as it is with family, and can now be found on the holiday menu at the Westlake bakery.

Note: As with most homemade candies, it’s wise to use a candy thermometer (readily available at most kitchenware stores).

1-1/2 cups butter (12 ounces)
1-2/3 cups sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup
2 tablespoons water
1 cup almonds, plus 1/2 cup for garnish
1/2 cup chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
  2. Line a half-sheet pan with tin foil and place into warm oven.
  3. Toast almonds in the oven until fragrant and slightly darker in color. Once cool, chop them into small pieces.
  4. Prepare a container with cool water, for testing when the candy is ready. If you are using a candy thermometer, place it near the cooking area.
  5. Place into a heavy saucepan the butter, sugar, water and corn syrup. Turn flame to medium heat and begin to stir. You are going to keep stirring the entire time it cooks, until it reaches hard crack stage.
  6. Once it reaches that point (300 degrees F or when a small drip of the mixture falls into the water and becomes immediately hard), pull it off the heat. If it gets too hot, it will not stay solidified.
  7. Stir in 1 cup of the almonds, then remove the sheet tray from the oven and pour the hot mixture onto the warm tray.
  8. Allow to set on counter for about 5 minutes, then pour chocolate chips on top.
  9. Once the chips have melted, you can use a flat spatula to spread the chocolate evenly across the candy.
  10. While chocolate is still melted, sprinkle the additional almonds on for garnish.
  11. Allow to cool completely and break into bite-size pieces.
  12. Store in airtight container and enjoy within a month of making it.

IRISH CREAM DARK CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES

“Biting into a truffle could be my favorite thing ever,” San Bartolome admits. “The smooth texture, paired with the balance of bittersweet chocolate and a strong Irish cream liqueur, is perfect for a holiday celebration.” This recipe is simple and highly adaptable — feel free to substitute another liqueur, such as amarena cherry juice (or omit altogether for a non-alcoholic version).

1 cup heavy whipping cream
5 tablespoons Bailey’s Irish Cream (okay to substitute heavy cream)
2 tablespoon butter
1 pinch kosher salt
1 pound dark chocolate, chopped (61%-72% is best)
Cocoa powder or another garnish (nonpareils, sprinkles, ground coconut, sanding sugar, chopped nuts) for dusting

  1. Scald the heavy cream over medium flame until boiling.
  2. Pour hot cream over the chocolate and allow to sit for a few minutes; the hot liquid will melt the chocolate.
  3. Gently whisk the cream and melted chocolate until a glossy, smooth ganache is formed.
  4. Add the Irish cream, butter and salt, and stir until well blended and the salt is dissolved.
  5. Place mixture into a refrigerator until chilled and firm.
  6. Shape the truffles: Using a small scoop or spoon, form the mixture into small bite-size balls. Place balls onto a plate with the cocoa powder or other garnish and roll around until lightly coated.

To store, keep in an airtight container in refrigerator. Let truffles come to room temperature before serving. Yields about 40 truffles.

PUMPKIN PEAR PECAN STRUDEL
Chef Deb Dawson Desserts to Die For
805.340.6005, www.dessertstodiefor.org

Move over, pumpkin pie! Deb Dawson — she of the hearse/pastry cart and delectable desserts that are (as the name says) “to die for” — has made the jump from Halloween to Christmas like a flour-dusted Jack Skellington. Good food, of course, is appropriate any time of year, and Dawson’s pumpkin and pear pastry is delicious for breakfast, lunch, dinner . . . or any time in between.

2 cups peeled and diced pears
1 cup pumpkin puree
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
12 ounces puff pastry if homemade, or two 8-ounce sheets if store bought Egg wash (one yolk mixed with 2 tablespoons heavy cream)
Cinnamon sugar (1/3 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon).

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Combine first eight ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
  3. If using homemade puff pastry, roll out to a 12 inch x 16 inch rectangle and transfer to a sheet pan. If using store bought, divide filling into two portions and use a baking sheet for each sheet.
  4. Spoon filling down center of pastry lengthwise, leaving enough room on either side to wrap over.
  5. Make diagonal cuts on either side, one to two inches apart.
  6. Fold up strips on each side, overlapping slightly on top and press together gently to seal.
  7. Repeat, working your way down the strudel.
  8. Brush lightly with egg wash, then sprinkle liberally with cinnamon sugar.
  9. Bake strudels for 25-30 minutes until a lovely deep golden brown.

Best served warm. Makes two strudels.

SPIKED WASSAIL WITH CINNAMON WHIPPED CREAM

1 lemon, sliced
1 orange, sliced
6 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
5 peppercorns
1 gallon apple cider
Bourbon (optional)
Cinnamon Whipped Cream (recipe follows)

  1. In a pot, bring all ingredients except the bourbon to a simmer, and simmer for 45 minutes.
  2. Ladle hot wassail into mugs, and, if desired, add 1.5 ounces bourbon to each mug.
  3. Top with hefty dollops of whipped cream and serve hot.

CINNAMON WHIPPED CREAM

2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup brown sugar

Whip all ingredients together until soft peaks form, and chill until needed.

PEPPERMINT MARTINI
Serves 2

Crushed peppermint candies
5 ounces vanilla vodka
2 ounces chocolate liqueur
1 ounce creme de menthe
1/2 ounce peppermint schnapps

  1. Rim two martini glasses with crushed peppermints and chill.
  2. Pour remaining ingredients into a shaker over ice.
  3. Shake until chilled, strain into martini glasses and serve.