End your meal on a sweet note

If tackling dessert for the first time: Simpler is better

Staff writerNovember 13, 2013 

desserts Last year, Odette D’Aniello, a professional baker, made three different pumpkin pies for her Thanksgiving dinner. Each was designed for guests with specific dietary restrictions. One was gluten free. One was dairy free. One was gluten, egg and dairy free.

Should a first-time Thanksgiving cook try that at home?

No. Most definitely not.

Unless you want a disaster on your hands.

Anyone taking a first stab at Thanksgiving dinner should stick with the basics for dessert. If you can’t talk your guests into bringing desserts, you can always outsource dessert if you do need to feed a crowd or have a guest with dietary restrictions. Pick up tarts, pies, cakes or crisps at specialty bakeries like D’Aniello’s Celebrity Cake Studio or at Corina Bakery in Tacoma. Phoebe’s Dessert Bakery in Olympia is another likely option for outsourcing dessert for Thanksgiving. For gluten-free needs, Julie’s Gluten-Free Bakery in Puyallup offers custom desserts.

For those of you brave enough to venture into baking your first Thanksgiving dessert lineup, here’s advice from the pros. We consulted D’Aniello; Molly Ott, owner of Tacoma’s Corina Bakery; Phoebe Martinson, owner of Olympia’s Phoebe’s Dessert Bakery and Erin Powell, pastry chef of Tacoma’s Pacific Grill.

Here’s their advice for keeping it simple.

Which desserts should an inexperienced cook not tackle? “Skip those that require multiple steps and obscure ingredients,” advised D’Aniello.

“I would avoid desserts that take a long time in the oven, only because you’re likely to be juggling a full oven schedule, with one oven,” said Powell. “If you can prepare desserts that can be made ahead of time, or require very little cooking, make those.”

“A difficult dessert for a first timer would be a pie with a topping like lemon meringue, which can be very finicky to prepare if the egg whites aren’t completely free of the yolk,” said Ott.

Which desserts are easiest for a first-time cook? “Any casserole or one-step dessert (flans, sweet potato crunch) because you don’t have to keep track of which ingredients go first and only one pan to serve in and wash,” said D’Aniello. Her recipe for flan and sweet potato crunch are included here.

Powell’s go-to easy dessert is a mousse. “Pumpkin mousse pie. It’s easy to assemble, no baking required, and can be made the day beforehand. You can also serve this in a glass, without the crust, and garnish with whipped cream and chopped pecans. Add a cookie if you need some crunch.” She’s provided her recipe here.

Martinson’s go-to dessert is a classic. “Pumpkin Pie would be the easiest. It has been around so long that Libby and whoever makes predone pie crusts have it so marketed and simplified anyone can do it. I do not even sell plain pumpkin pies,” said Martinson.

To save time — go with Martinson’s shortcut. “I would suggest buying a crust mix, or predone frozen crusts. It can be overwhelming to mix, chill, roll and bake your own while trying to concentrate on other things. Do not bake your own pumpkin ... messy and can be flavorless,” she said. Instead, buy Libby’s canned pumpkin.

Limit how much you bake: “First timers should only tackle 1 or 2 at the most the first time. It takes a lot to shop it, organize supplies, then begin,” said Martinson.

How do you make it easier on yourself? “Do a test run before hand, a week before. Assemble your recipes, and give them a whirl. Then you’ll be able to judge how much time each item will take you and where desserts can fit into your packed schedule. Also, make items that you think you’ll be the most successful at, there’s no need to stress yourself out over a dessert with a ‘difficult’ rating while you’ve got so many other things going on,” said Powell.

“Don’t do any test baking the morning of Thanksgiving, especially if you have other dishes to prepare,” said D’Aniello. “I’ve done that and it just is a big guess on whether or not the new version you are making will turn out. Best to bake the dessert the night before and set in the refrigerator or freezer. Not only will you have limited time the morning of Thanksgiving but you’ll also have limited counter and oven space.”

Best tips for easy service: “Self-served one tray desserts are easy. Also individual desserts can be more time consuming while baking, but easier to serve during dinner. Complementing your dessert with fruits, cheeses and nuts, whipped cream dips, melted chocolate gives your guests a good variety and can meet various dietetic needs. It also requires little effort but makes a big impression,” said D’Aniello.

Powell recommended grouping desserts for self service. “I really like the dessert bar/buffet idea, and it gives everyone the opportunity to make their own desserts with the options you’ve given them. This alleviates the plating and serving aspect (for the most part), you just have to prep and set everything out.”

Recommended Martinson, “Plating is easier if all the desserts are cold. Use a sharp knife, not a butter knife and wipe the knife in between cuts with a warm towel to limit the messy look.”

Easy dessert with little effort: From Powell: “Make cookie dough, freeze it, and bake it 25 minutes before you’re serving dessert. You could serve cookies by themselves, or with pumpkin ice cream. This could also be turned into a delicious and creative cookie bar with warm cookies, ice cream, and a plethora of toppings. It may not be a traditional dessert, but you could start a new tradition, and make things easy on yourself.”

Leche Flan

12 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups evaporated milk

2 cans sweetened condensed milk

1/2 cup of white sugar with 1 ounce water

Preheat oven at 325 degrees F. In a sauce pan, cook sugar with water in low heat until the mixture turns caramel colored. Pour caramel into cake pan until bottom is well coated.

With a whisk, beat eggs, condensed milk, evaporated milk, and vanilla. Pour mixture over caramelized sugar.

Place the pan into a larger broiler pan and fill with 2 inches hot water.

Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until when flan is pierced, the fork comes out clean.

Refrigerate. Run a spatula along the side and unmold to serve.

Source: By Vivian Burks and Odette D’Aniello of Celebrity Cake Studio, 314 E. 26th St, Tacoma, 253-627-4773, celebritycakestudio.com

Sweet Potato Crunch

For the sweet potatoes:

4 medium sweet potatoes

1 stick of butter, melted

1/3 cup evaporated milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup sugar

2 eggs

For the topping:

1 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup self rising flour (do not substitute all purpose)

1/3 cup butter, melted

1 cup pecans, chopped

For the sweet potatoes: Cut potatoes in 1-inch cubes. Boil potatoes until tender and drain. Mash potatoes and mix with butter, evaporated milk, vanilla, sugar and eggs. Spread into a greased 9-by-13 baking dish.

For the topping: Mix together sugar, flour, butter and pecans and sprinkle over sweet potato mixture. Bake at 375 degrees F until topping is brown. Topping should be crunchy after 30—45 minutes. Don’t forget the whipped topping.

Source: By Vivian Burks and Odette D’Aniello of Celebrity Cake Studio, 314 E. 26th St, Tacoma, 253-627-4773, celebritycakestudio.com

Pumpkin Mousse Pie

For the filling:

1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree

8 ounces cream cheese

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

12 ounces heavy cream

1/4 cup sour cream

1 9” graham cracker shell, store bought

Optional: For the homemade crust (if not using store bought shell):

1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

2 ounces melted butter

For the crust: If using premade crust, then step this skip. To make the graham cracker crust, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9-inch pie pan with non-stick spray. Stir together crumbs and sugar, add melted butter and stir. Press into pan and bake for 6 minutes. Set aside while you make the filling.

For the filling: In a mixer, beat cream cheese, sugar and spices until smooth. Scrape the bowl, including the bottom, and add pumpkin puree, beat until combined.

Whip heavy cream and sour cream to stiff peaks. Gently fold whipped cream into the pumpkin mixture until smooth.

Pour into prepared graham cracker shell, spread evenly, and chill. Let set for at least 4 hours, and overnight if possible.

When you’re ready to serve, garnish with whipped cream and chopped pecans or toffee bits.

Source: Erin Powell, pastry chef, Pacific Grill, 1502 Pacific Ave, Tacoma, 253-627-3535, pacificgrilltacoma.com

Corina Bakery’s Chocolate Chip Bourbon Pecan Pie

1 cup corn syrup

1 cup brown sugar

3 tablespoons butter

3 eggs, beaten

cup milk ((Kerry says make this 1/3 cup of milk)))

Pinch salt

2 teaspoons vanilla

3 tablespoons bourbon

1 1/2 cups pecans

1/2 cup chocolate chips

Prepared pie crust (storebought)

With a mixer or by hand with egg beaters, cream corn syrup and brown sugar. Cream in butter. Add beaten eggs and milk. Add salt, vanilla and bourbon, mix well. Add pecans and chocolate chips, stir well. Pour into pie crust pressed into a pie pan and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, or until internal temperature has reached 195 degrees. Let rest, then refrigerate. Served topped with whipped cream.

Source: Molly Ott, owner, Corina Bakery, 602 Fawcett Ave, Tacoma, 253-627-5070, corinabakery.com

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