During this magical time of year when feelings of generosity and goodwill abound, it seems fitting to end your holiday meal with a sweet exclamation point. After all, it’s a celebratory once-a-year feast and you want a dessert that is decadent, dazzling, and delectable. So what to make? We asked several local pastry chefs to choose their most star-worthy creations and here is what they’ve offered.
Sticky Toffee Pudding Bundt Cake
“I chose sticky toffee pudding because it’s so cozy and rich and something I associate with the holidays and wintertime,” says pastry chef Lauren Morgan, who grew up in Wenham and owns Honeycomb bakery and café in Hamilton. “It’s not a pudding like we would think, but a cake sweetened with dates and molasses, which is a very New England ingredient.” After soaking dates in boiling water to plump and soften them, Morgan folds them into a cake batter, which she cooks in a Bundt pan until lofty and golden. With a wooden pick, she then pricks the top of the hot cake and drenches it with warm toffee sauce made from molasses and cream bubbled together. When the cake can’t absorb anymore sauce, she turns it out onto a decorative platter and glazes the top with the remaining toffee sauce.
“It’s a sweet, moist, rich cake,” says Morgan, “and the dates and molasses are the two flavors that really come through. Beyond pie, it just might be one of my favorite things to eat—morning, noon, and night.” At her bakery, sticky toffee pudding is in regular rotation during the winter months, available by the slice as a “yummy, gooey snack.”
Honeycomb, 248 Bay Rd., South Hamilton, honeycombhamilton.com
Sticky Toffee Pudding Bundt Cake
Morgan bakes this caramelly dessert in a 9-inch Bundt pan to give it a dressy appearance. You can serve it plain or with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. If you can, use Medjool dates, which are larger and softer than the firm, shiny, small supermarket dates.
INGREDIENTS FOR THE CAKE
2 1/4 cups boiling water
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup pitted, chopped dates (Medjool dates, if possible)
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 cup white granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1. Combine the boiling water and baking soda in a large bowl. Add the dates, stir, and set aside until the mixture has cooled, about 1 hour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or use a large bowl with electric beaters), cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla, scraping the bottom of the bowl well. Blend in the dates and their soaking liquid.
3. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add half of this mixture to the date mixture and blend. Add the remaining flour mixture and mix just until combined.
4. Coat a 9-inch Bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray. Pour in the batter and bake the cake about 30 minutes, or until it springs back when lightly touched. While the cake is baking, prepare the toffee sauce.
INGREDIENTS FOR THE TOFFEE SAUCE
3 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup Sugar in the Raw (Turbinado raw cane sugar)
1/2 cup molasses
1/4 tsp. salt
1. Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and let the toffee sauce bubble until thickened, about 10 minutes.
2. Using a wooden skewer or toothpick, prick the entire top of the warm cake and then then cover with half of the toffee sauce and let it soak in. Once the cake has cooled completely, invert it onto a cake platter and top with the remaining toffee sauce.
For his dessert, French-born Alexander Bonnefoi, executive pastry chef for The Varano Group, which includes the Italian restaurant Strega Prime in Woburn, has picked maple tiramisu, a traditional Italian dessert with a New England spin. Bonnefoi first made the dessert when working at the three-star Michelin restaurant at the Four Seasons George V in Paris. “So many guests were American and I wanted to make something familiar for them,” he says, referring to the maple flavor. To craft the dessert, Bonnefoi first soaks ladyfinger biscuits in espresso sweetened with amaretto liqueur, and then he tops them with a cloud of mascarpone blended with a custard that’s been sweetened with reduced maple syrup. He repeats the process to create a second layer and then chills the dessert for several hours before garnishing with unsweetened cocoa powder.
“It’s very creamy and silky in the mouth,” says Bonnefoi. “You taste the maple syrup, but it’s not overpowering like when you eat pancakes. This dessert is delicate and very sophisticated, but very simple to make.”
Strega Prime, 100 Sylvan Rd. Woburn, stregaprime.com
Bonnefoi recommends using Bel Gioioso brand mascarpone, which is much less watery than other brands. He’s also simplified this recipe by using store-bought Ladyfinger biscuits (not the soft ones), instead of homemade ones. If you don’t have an espresso machine, you can use instant espresso powder or simply substitute 1 cup of very strong coffee.
1 leaf of gelatin (or 1 tsp. powdered gelatin)
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 cup heavy cream
4 large egg yolks
3/4 cup mascarpone (BelGioioso brand, if possible)
20 prepared Ladyfinger biscuits
1 cup espresso coffee
3 Tbsp. Amaretto liqueur
Unsweetened cocoa powder for garnishing
1. Soften the gelatin leaf in a bowl of cold water or dissolve powdered gelatin in 1 tablespoon of cold water.
2. Place the maple syrup in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. When bit starts to boil, reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the syrup has reduced to 1/2 cup.
3. Slowly whisk the heavy cream into the reduced maple syrup. Then, one by one, whisk in the egg yolks. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, and whisk constantly until the mixture has thickened slightly, about 1 minute. Remove the custard from the heat and drain the softened gelatin leaf from the water and add to the custard (or add the softened granules). Whisk until the gelatin has completely dissolved. Cover the custard and refrigerate for several hours or until cold.
4. Add the mascarpone to the cold custard and with electric beaters, beat the mixture on high until it is the consistency of whipped cream.
5. Blend together the espresso and Amaretto in a shallow bowl. Dip one Ladyfinger in the coffee mixture, coating both sides, and place on the bottom of a decorative glass bowl. Repeat the process with nine or more ladyfingers.
6. Fill a pastry bag with half of the mascarpone mixture and squirt a portion over each biscuit (or use a spoon to dollop half the cream mixture over the ten biscuits). Repeat the process, making a second layer of coffee-soaked ladyfingers topped with the remaining half of the mascarpone mixture. Refrigerate the tiramisu for several hours until cold. Just before serving, shake a little unsweetened cocoa powder through a small strainer over the tiramisu.
Buche de Noel
French-born Dimitri Vallier, pastry chef and co-owner (with his sister, Sophie) of Caramel French Patisserie in Salem, has selected a traditional Gallic holiday treat. “When I was growing up, every Christmas my family would have bûche de Noël,” he says; the French name translates to “log of Christmas.” French families traditionally serve this rolled, buttercream-filled and frosted sponge cake to symbolize the burning of the Yule log.
“My grandfather made it, since he was a pastry chef, as was my great grandfather,” says Vallier, who’s worked with such famous French chefs as Paul Bocuse, Gaston Lenôtre, and Daniel Boulud. “You can make it with vanilla or chocolate buttercream, but I am offering a chocolate because everybody loves chocolate!” To start, Vallier makes a vanilla sponge cake, which he moistens with simple syrup before thinly coating with chocolate buttercream. After rolling the cake into a cylinder, he frosts it with the rest of the buttercream and pulls a fork down through the frosting to mimic the look of bark. He then decorates the log with meringue mushrooms, chocolate curls and a little Santa.
“When you bite into it it’s soft, sugary, chocolatey and very light,” he says, noting that it’s a relatively simple dessert. “It’s basically just a big sponge cake with buttercream and lots of layers to it.” At his bakery customers can preorder a large Bûche de Noël or pick up mini, single-portion logs in chocolate or vanilla, which will be available every day from the beginning of December until Christmas day.
Caramel Patisserie, 281 Essex St., Salem, caramelpatisserie.com
Buche de Noel
You’ll need a jelly roll pan to make the cake and a candy thermometer for the meringue portion of the buttercream.
INGREDIENTS FOR THE SPONGE CAKE:
Room temperature butter and extra flour for preparing jelly roll pan
6 large eggs
3/4 cups granulated white sugar
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter a jelly roll pan and fit it with a piece of wax paper long enough that it hangs over the edge of the jelly roll pan on each side. Lightly butter and flour the portion of wax paper that fits in the pan.
2. Place three whole eggs in a large bowl, along with the remaining three egg yolks (place the three whites in a separate small bowl). Add half of the sugar (6 tablespoons) to the egg yolk mixture and beat with electric beaters until the mixture is thick, foamy, and pale yellow. Beat in the remaining three egg whites and gradually beat in the rest of the sugar.
3. Using a sifter, shake one-third of the flour over the egg mixture and, using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the sifted flour. Repeat this process two more times, folding the flour into the batter with each addition. Gently spread the batter evenly on the prepared jelly roll pan, about 1/2- inch thick. Bake the sponge cake for 10-12 minutes, or until it is lightly golden and it springs back to the touch when gently pressed. Let the cake cool while you make the simple syrup.
INGREDIENTS FOR THE SIMPLE SYRUP:
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
1. Place the boiling water in a small bowl and whisk in the sugar until completely dissolved. Set aside to cool.
2. Once the syrup has cooled, invert the sponge cake onto a clean surface covered with a tea towel. Peel off the wax paper and lightly brush the surface of the sponge cake with some of the simple syrup (you will have simple syrup leftover).
INGREDIENTS FOR THE BUTTER CREAM:
6 large egg whites
3 cups powdered sugar
4 sticks butter, room temperature
3 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1. Place the egg whites and powdered sugar in a large metal bowl with the bottom portion of the bowl just submerged in a saucepan of simmering water. Using electric beaters, whip the mixture until it has thickened (and reads 131 degrees on a candy thermometer).
2. Remove the bowl containing the meringue mixture from the heat and continue whipping it until it the meringue has become even more firm and cooled slightly.
3. Working in batches, add 1/2 stick of the room temperature butter and 1/2 cup of the cocoa powder to the meringue and whip until incorporated. Continue adding the remaining butter and cocoa powder to the meringue in this same manner until you’ve incorporated all the butter and cocoa powder.
4. Leaving approximately a 1-inch border of plain cake, spread half of the buttercream over the sponge cake. Gently roll the cake to form a log and place seam side down on a platter. Frost the log with the remaining buttercream, decorate as desired, and chill for several hours before serving.