Seasonal Sweets

Davio's pastry chef Michelle Boland shares decadent desserts to wow your family and friends this Thanksgiving.



Photos by Anthony Tieuli

 

It doesn’t matter that Michelle Boland, pastry chef at Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse in Lynnfield, spends her entire workday baking, thinking about baking, or getting ready for baking. She cooks constantly at home, too, and will always take the time to bring something special with her when she’s a guest in someone else’s house, whether it’s a beautiful cheese board, a bottle of wine, or one of her delicious desserts.

“You just always want to take care of people, and it’s always through food,” Boland says. “When you have that hospitality bug, you just can’t get rid of it.”

Boland’s “hospitality bug” is certainly on display every day, whether she’s tempting people with one of her latest creations on the dessert cart at Davio’s or baking Thanksgiving sweets for her family and friends.

Boland first came to the kitchen through art; she realized that she could translate her love of art into food as a student at Johnson & Wales University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in baking and pastry arts. There, she did a lot of work with breads, as well as food sculpting, modeling, and airbrushing. “That fulfilled that need for art and making things really pretty,” she says.

 

Pastry chef Michelle Boland sources fruit from Smolak Farms in North Andover.

 

For the past three years, the Groveland native has been able to make things really pretty every day at work, too, first as pastry chef at the Davio’s Chestnut Hill location, and now at Davio’s in Lynnfield. Beautiful desserts are especially important at Davio’s because, instead of a printed menu, Davio’s desserts are presented to guests on a dessert cart.

“If that doesn’t look good to them, they’re not going to get it,” Boland says of tempting diners with her delectable desserts. “They’re going to eat with their eyes first.”

Of course, that certainly plays to her strengths. Davio’s seven-piece dessert carts always feature three favorites—tiramisu, panna cotta, and warm chocolate cake—as well as others that rotate with the seasons. Plus, special feature desserts let Boland flex her creative muscles, whether she’s creating something cute and kitschy or sophisticated and refined.

For instance, she loves to riff on birthday cake each year on her birthday in early August, creating things like a birthday cake donut, a strawberry-frosted cake with cotton candy, and even a cake topped with a “cookie lantern.”

 

Fresh Fig Tart. recipe below.

 

“Who doesn’t like birthday cake?” she reasons. “I really like sprinkles, and it’s a good excuse to use rainbow sprinkles.” Another favorite dessert feature is one that Boland calls “the surprise cylinder dessert:” a chocolate tube filled with chocolate mousse and strawberries, and served with crumbled dark chocolate, strawberry crème anglaise, and chocolate caviar.

She also favors fresh fruits and the flavors of the seasons. “I just let the seasons take control,” she says. “I just like making things that, first off, taste really good.”

During the holidays, things are no different. At home on Thanksgiving, she loves to keep things simple and classic with apple and pumpkin pies that are enhanced with a ginger-pecan crust and a scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream.

She was also generous enough to share some of her favorite recipes with Northshore readers, like her pumpkin sticky toffee pudding, which is baked in a pumpkin and includes a delicious salted caramel sauce. It’s a dessert that she says is “super cute” and has a “beautiful presentation,” but that she promises is very easy for the home cook to make him- or herself and wow their friends and family. “That’s a crowd-pleaser,” she says. “Everyone will love that.”

 

Plum Cobbler with Brown Butter Buiscuits. Recipe below.

 

Another easy crowd-pleaser is the plum cobbler with brown butter biscuits, which Boland says is not only delicious and simple to make but also easily doubled for larger family gatherings. The same is true for the apple cider donut bread pudding, which plays with the season’s favorite flavors by using comforting and familiar farm-fresh apple cider donuts and a sweet apple filling.

A Thanksgiving recipe that Boland calls a little more “chef-y” is the fresh fig tart with bourbon mascarpone mousse and rosemary-infused honey. “It’s super impressive,” she says. “The presentation is beautiful.”

 

Pumpkin sticky toffee pudding. Recipe below.

 

Boland says whether home cooks choose to tackle a recipe that’s quick and easy or one that’s more involved, they should always prepare by reading through the recipe fully, measuring out all of the ingredients, and assembling all the tools they’ll need before they begin cooking.

“Don’t be intimidated by trying something new,” she says. Just take your time, and don’t be afraid to turn to the Internet for help if there’s something you don’t understand.

But above all, know that when you cook with love for your family and friends, they’ll certainly feel it. As Boland says of all the home cooks out there, “Whatever they create is going to be awesome.”


Recipes

 

Apple Cider Donut Bread Pudding

1 ½ dozen apple cider donuts (12 cubed, 6 sliced in half)

1 recipe apple filling:

2 McIntosh apples

1/3 cup granulated sugar

¼ tsp. cinnamon

1/3 cup water

½ ea. vanilla bean (split)

1 Gala apple

1 Cortland apple

1 tsp. cornstarch (plus 2 Tbsp. water for slurry)

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup light brown sugar

5 eggs

2 cups whole milk

2 tsp. ground cinnamon

2 tsp. vanilla extract

 

Cut up 12 of the apple cider donuts into bite-size pieces and slice the remaining 6 donuts in half (like a bagel); set aside. Make the apple filling by peeling and dicing the McIntosh apples and placing them in a pan with the sugar, cinnamon, water, and vanilla bean; cook down to applesauce consistency. While Macs are cooking, peel and dice the Gala and Cortland apples to small cubes (approx. ¼ X ¼ inch). Set aside.

When Macs are cooked down, make cornstarch slurry and pour into applesauce; cook until thickened. Stir in the uncooked cubed apples; remove vanilla bean and set aside. To make the bread pudding base, stir together the sugars, eggs, milk, cinnamon, and vanilla until smooth and combined. In a 9X13 baking dish, spray with nonstick spray and place all the cubed donuts in an even layer; pour the apple filling over them and gently mix with hands to combine; and then pour the bread pudding batter on top. Arrange the halved donuts decoratively on top, pressing them into the batter; allow to sit for approximately 30 minutes for the donuts to soak up the mixture. Bake in a 350-degree Fahrenheit oven for approximately 35 minutes, or until the center no longer looks wet. Serve warm, garnished with whipped cream or vanilla bean gelato.


Fresh Fig Tart with Bourbon Mascarpone Mousse and Rosemary-Infused Honey

9” tart shell pan

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

¼ cup granulated sugar

¼ tsp. table salt

1 stick cold unsalted butter

1 egg

½ tsp. vanilla extract

In a large bowl combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Cube the cold butter and add to the dry ingredients; with your hands, press on the butter so the butter becomes no bigger than the size of small peas and starts to resemble sand. Add the eggs and vanilla extract and knead until just combined. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill until firm.

On a well-floured surface, roll the dough out to approximately a 12” circle, and carefully transfer to a greased 9” tart shell (gently fold the dough in half, and then in half again, fitting it to the inside of the tart shell, and unfolding); press the dough into the corners and up the sides, and trim off any excess. Place tart shell in freezer until shell is firm and chilled, and then blind-bake crust (line the crust with parchment and fill with either pie weights, rice, or beans to keep it from rising). Bake at 375 degrees for about 15-20 minutes or until set, and then remove the weights and bake another 5 minutes until golden brown.

Allow to cool and set aside until needed.

 

Bourbon Mascarpone Mousse

1 recipe pastry cream:

2 cups whole milk

¾ tsp. table salt

1 .25-ounce gelatin packet (+ ¼ cup water to bloom)

6 egg yolks

2/3 cup granulated sugar

½ cup AP flour

2/3 cup mascarpone

1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

1 .25-ounce gelatin packet (+ ¼ cup water to bloom)

¼ cup bourbon

½ vanilla bean, split and seeded

2 cups heavy cream

 

For pastry cream, heat the milk and salt in a saucepan to scald. Combine gelatin and water in a small bowl to bloom; allow to sit for 5 minutes. Beat together the yolks and sugar until light and creamy, and then stir in flour. Pour the hot milk into the egg mixture and mix until smooth and combined; return to pot and cook until thick and mixture boils. Remove from heat; stir in gelatin, mascarpone, and vanilla until combined and smooth. Strain into a bowl and cover the top with plastic wrap; press right against the pastry cream to avoid film; chill in fridge until ready to use. Prepare gelatin for mousse by adding the water and allowing to sit for 5 minutes. Then heat in microwave until fully dissolved; slowly stir in the bourbon, vanilla bean seeds, and a splash of heavy cream (make sure to add these ingredients slowly, so the gelatin does not seize). Whip cream to medium peaks and slowly pour in the bourbon mixture (while mixing); mix until incorporated. Scrape all the pastry cream into a large bowl and whisk till smooth. With a rubber spatula, fold in whipped cream until smooth and combined; pour into tart shell and smooth top.

 

Rosemary-Infused Honey

1 tsp. rosemary

½ cup honey

fresh figs

sliced almonds

candied rosemary

 

Finely chop fresh rosemary and stir into honey; allow to sit and infuse. Garnish tart with sliced fresh figs, drizzled rosemary honey, candied rosemary, and sliced almonds.


Plum Cobbler with Brown Butter Biscuits

Plum filling:

10 plums (pitted and thickly sliced)

2/3 cup granulated sugar

2 Tbsp. cornstarch

1 tsp. cinnamon

2 tsp. lemon juice

1 tsp. vanilla

 

Toss all ingredients in a bowl and allow to macerate until juicy.

 

Brown butter biscuits:

6 ounces unsalted butter (to be browned)

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/8 cup granulated sugar

1 Tbsp. baking powder

1 tsp. kosher salt

2 eggs

½ cup heavy cream

 

  1. To brown butter, put butter in a small pot and heat on medium heat (you’re caramelizing the milk solids); swirl pot occasionally to stir. The butter will foam and then start browning quickly after. Stir until you see brown flecks in the butter, and remove from heat.
  2. In the bowl of a mixer, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt, and stir until combined.
  3. All at once combine the butter, eggs, and cream in a bowl, and then add to the dry ingredients, only mixing until just incorporated.
  4. To bake cobbler, fill a pie dish or any ceramic dish with the fruit filling, and top with scoops of the biscuit batter. Dust generously with sugar.
  5. Bake at 325-degrees Fahrenheit until fruit is bubbly and biscuits are golden brown. Serve warm with whipped cream or gelato.

 


Pumpkin Sticky Toffee Pudding—Baked in a Pumpkin!

1 cup pumpkin ale

1 tsp. baking soda

10 pitted dates

4 Tbsp. pumpkin purée

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

2 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. nutmeg

Pinch of ground ginger and cloves

½ tsp. kosher salt

4 ounces soft unsalted butter

1 cup + 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar

  1. tsp. vanilla extract

4 eggs

 

In a tall pot, combine the pumpkin ale, baking soda, pitted dates, and pumpkin purée. Allow to come to a boil. Let cool, and then purée mixture. Combine flour, baking powder, spices, and salt in a bowl; set aside. In a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy; add vanilla extract and eggs, and beat until combined. Stir in the dry ingredients and pumpkin mixture, alternating until finished and a smooth batter is formed. This batter can be baked in any pan; if baking a pumpkin, cut top off pumpkin and clean the insides out. Fill the pumpkin ¾ of the way with batter, and bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit until the center of the cake springs back when touched. Immediately poke cake with a wooden skewer and soak with toffee sauce (below). Serve warm.

 

Toffee sauce:

1 ¼ cups brown sugar

5 ounces unsalted butter

1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

2/3 cup heavy cream

1 Tbsp. lemon juice

½ tsp. table salt

 

Combine brown sugar, butter, and vanilla in a pot, and heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is uniform. Add the heavy cream, lemon juice, and salt, and stir until combined and heated through.

 

Salted Caramel Sauce

2 cups granulated sugar                    

½ tsp. corn syrup                                

1 tsp. lemon juice

Water, as needed                                          

1 ½ cups heavy cream                       

Kosher salt, to taste                          

 

In a pot, combine the sugar, corn syrup, lemon juice, and enough water to bring the mixture to a “wet sand” consistency. Heat while stirring to caramelize the sugar mixture to a dark amber (like maple syrup), and slowly stir in the heavy cream. Add salt to taste. Keep covered in fridge until needed.

 

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