Posts Tagged 'Thanksgiving Desserts'

Cranberry Swirl Cheesecake

Does anyone else still have cranberries left over from Thanksgiving?  Since they keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks and also freeze beautifully, I’ve been steadily working my way through the half-full jumbo bag my mom sent home with us last month.  Today’s recipe – Cranberry Swirl Cheesecake from the December 2010 issue of Cooking Light – was a special request from my darling husband.  The dessert looked so good on the cover of the magazine that we just had to try it.

Since the process was a bit long, I’ll spare you the play-by-play today.  I did have several issues and modifications, though.

  • When I bake cheesecakes in a water bath, I always use the 18-inch-wide heavy-duty Reynolds foil because it allows me to wrap the entire 9-inch springform pan with one piece.  When I would overlap two pieces of the 12-inch foil in the past, I would consistently get leakage and a soggy crust.  I bring the foil all the way up the sides and then roll any excess at the top into a “lip” so the foil doesn’t extend down into the pan.  Works like a charm!
  • The only chocolate graham crackers my grocery store had were chocolate Teddy Grahams, so that’s what I bought.  Once they’re ground up, they’re pretty much all the same, right?
  • There was no way I was going to put oil in my cheesecake crust, so I substituted 3 tablespoons of melted butter for the 3 tablespoons of canola oil.
  • I didn’t have any Chambord and I didn’t want to buy a whole bottle for the recipe, so I bought two mini bottles at the liquor store for $5.  (I have half of one bottle left.)
  • I don’t know if it was the saucepan I used (a hard anodized Calphalon) or the fact that water evaporates more quickly at high altitude, but my cranberry topping was initially more like candied cranberries than sauce (and that was even after I shaved a minute off of the cooking time).  I ended up adding 5 tablespoons of water to the sauce in the food processor step to thin it out.
  • I don’t ever use fat-free cream cheese (it’s like plastic!), so I used all reduced-fat cream cheese instead of using both types.
  • I used Fage 0% for the Greek yogurt.
  • My whole eggs were room temperature; my egg whites were pretty cold. (Eggs separate best when they’re fresh from the refrigerator.)
  • Many of the recipe reviewers complained that a 9-inch springform pan won’t fit inside a 9 x 13-inch metal pan for the water bath, and it’s true.  Luckily, I have a large lasagna pan (11 x 16) that worked well.
  • I boiled my water in a tea kettle before pouring it around the foil-wrapped cheesecake.
  • The recipe indicated that the cheesecake should barely move in the center after 50 minutes of baking time at 325°F.  Several reviewers said they had to add baking time, whether it was 5 minutes, 20 minutes, or more.  I ended up giving my cheesecake 65 minutes at 325°F before turning off the oven and giving it 30 minutes of in-oven cooling time.

Cranberry Swirl Cheesecake

This recipe isn’t going to knock my all-time favorite cheesecake (Margarita Cheesecake!) off its throne, but it was pretty fantastic (and far more seasonally appropriate).  This recipe produced a light, fluffy, creamy texture and I loved the play between the slightly tart cranberry topping and the sweetness of the cheesecake.  One of the recipe reviewers on the Cooking Light site said that she didn’t like the chocolate crust because it created “too many flavors” in the final result; I think chocolate and cranberry go together beautifully, though, so I loved it. It was a bit challenging to get the crust out when I cut the first piece (the first piece is always the hardest!), but subsequent pieces came out easily.

I’ve made quite a few cheesecakes and have a pretty sensitive palate, so I could tell this was a lower-fat cheesecake.  I don’t think your average dinner guest would have an inkling, though.  Since this cheesecake is gorgeous, delicious, and able to be made ahead, I’m definitely putting it in my holiday recipe arsenal.

Recipe link: Cranberry Swirl Cheesecake

Pecan Bars

My mom and I have been working on our Thanksgiving menu for the past week or so.  Choosing our dishes for the main meal was a snap, but we got stuck on dessert.  I could think of at least five or six things I would love to serve, but we would have ridiculous amounts of leftovers.  (Leftover turkey?  Yes, please.  Two weeks’ worth of leftover pie?  Trouble.)  We finally agreed that we should have something pumpkin (Muirhead Pecan Pumpkin Butter Dessert Squares), something apple (the Caramel Apple Pie I made last year), and something pecan (my dad’s favorite!).  As much as I enjoyed it the first time I made it, I knew I didn’t want to make Martha’s Maple-Nut Tart again after the struggle I had getting it out of the tart pan.  I found a basic recipe for Pecan Bars on her site, though, and thought they could be a fun, easy-to-serve option.

To make the crust, I used the paddle attachment on my stand mixer to beat together 2 sticks of unsalted butter, 1/2 cup of confectioner’s (powdered) sugar, and 1 teaspoon of salt until light.  On low speed, I beat in 2 cups of all-purpose flour until the mixture formed a mass.  I transferred the dough to a 9 x 13-inch pan and used a sheet of plastic wrap to press it evenly into the bottom of the pan.  I discarded the plastic wrap and baked the crust at 375°F until golden (25 minutes).

While the crust baked, I made the filling.  In a small bowl, I whisked together 2 more tablespoons of all-purpose flour, another teaspoon of salt, and a scant 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder.  Using an electric mixer, I beat 2 large, room-temperature eggs with 1 1/2 cups of packed light brown sugar and 1 tablespoon of dark corn syrup until light.  I folded the flour mixture into the egg mixture, followed by 2 cups of pecans (coarsely chopped) and 1 cup of sweetened flaked coconut.

When the crust had finished baking, I gently spread the filling over it and baked until the filling was set (20 minutes).  Immediately after the pan came out of the oven, I ran a metal spatula around the edges and then set the pan on a wire rack to cool.  Once cool, I cut the bars into 24 servings.

Pecan Bars

First things first: If you’re into salty-sweet things (I am!), these bars are absolutely delicious.  You get a buttery, flaky, tender crust on the bottom, a chewy center, and oodles of coconut-pecan flavor.  If you don’t like sweet things, these may be too much for you; substituting unsweetened coconut for the sweetened coconut would dial things back a bit.

My only beef with this recipe is that it extolled the virtues of serving something that guests could hold in their hands.  Unless you’re into crumbs everywhere, there’s just no way.  I tried using several different kitchen tools (spatulas, bench scrapers, knives) to get a nice, clean edge when cutting the bars; as you can probably tell from my photo, things didn’t work out very well.  For better or for worse, crumbly deliciousness apparently equals mess.  If you served these on a plate, though, you’d be fine.  If you served them warm on a plate with ice cream, your guests might try to move in.  Choose your serving method wisely. 😉

Recipe link: Pecan Bars

Ginger Pumpkin Tart

The requirement of last week’s gourmet club meeting was to cook with five ingredients or fewer.  Although I ultimately settled on another recipe for the dinner party, this Ginger Pumpkin Tart from Claire Robinson is super easy and very seasonally appropriate.

To make the crust, I ground two 5.25-ounce packages of Anna’s Ginger Thins in my food processor to yield 2 1/2 cups of crumbs.  (I think any gingersnap-type cookie will do.)  I combined the crumbs with 6 tablespoons of melted butter, transferred the mixture to my 9-inch removable-bottom tart pan, and pressed the crumbs into the bottom and up the sides of the pan with the bottom of a clean measuring cup.  I put the tart pan on a rimmed baking sheet and baked the crust at 350°F until it darkened a bit (11 minutes).  Next, I set it aside to cool.  (Make sure it gets reasonably close to room temperature before adding the filling; stick it in the refrigerator if you want to speed this up.)

For the filling, I whisked together one 15-ounce can of pumpkin purée (not pumpkin pie filling!), 3/4 cup of sweetened condensed milk, 2 large egg yolks, and a pinch of salt (salt, pepper, and water are considered “freebie” ingredients) in a medium bowl.  I poured the filling into the cooled crust, returned the pan to the oven (still on a rimmed baking sheet, still at 350°F), and baked the tart until it was set (30 minutes).  I removed the tart from the oven, cooled it to room temperature, and then chilled it for several hours in the refrigerator before serving.

Ginger Pumpkin Tart

For being so simple, this is pretty darn tasty.  It’s essentially like eating pumpkin pie, except with a ginger cookie crust.  Like any good pumpkin dessert, though, it really isn’t complete without a bit of sweetened whipped cream…  I know this takes the recipe over the five-ingredient limit, but it’s essential.

Want to try something a bit more gourmet with homemade pumpkin purée and chocolate?  Check out last year’s Chocolate-Pumpkin Tart post.

TIPS:  Apparently, the canned pumpkin supply is back to good after last year’s shortage.  Yay!  Also, the one “mistake” I made with this recipe was to push too much of the crust up the sides instead of leaving more on the bottom.  That thick crust looks absolutely gorgeous, but it was pretty difficult to cut once I got to the edge.  Sticking a fork through it?  Impossible.  We had to pick up the crust and eat it like a cookie.  (Still delicious!)  Next time, I’ll even things out a bit.

Recipe link: Ginger Pumpkin Tart

Caramel Apple Pie

So I tested the Caramel Apple Pie recipe that I mentioned yesterday and it’s a winner!  Hallelujah.  In my quest for pie proficiency this fall, I’ve tried three different apple pie recipes (two different crusts, three different fillings).  This recipe wins both the crust and the filling contests, so I’m confident that it will go over well at our Thanksgiving celebration.

I experienced two “firsts” while trying this recipe:

1.  I worked with lard!  This was my first time buying it, in fact.  One of my best friends is from New Mexico, and I remember being shocked at my first visit to the supermarket in Las Cruces when I saw shelf after shelf (after shelf!) of lard in containers of all sizes.  I never even considered the existence of lard as a grocery product until I met this friend, but I’ve also never consumed better fried tacos than I have during the course of this friendship.  And let me tell you, lard makes one heck of a pie crust.  It almost had a bit of a snap to it when I cut the first piece and it held its shape well during serving.  It was also exceptionally delicious, of course.

2.  I made my own caramel!  It was ridiculously easy and pass-out-freakin’ delicious.  Have you ever had those little log-shaped, individually-wrapped soft caramels?  The ones that are so soft they aren’t really even chewy?  The pie caramel was too soft to be formed into candies (which makes sense since it’s supposed to be drizzled over the pie), but the taste was spot on.  You’d better believe that Dr. O and I scraped that saucepan clean.

The recipe for this pie is a bit long, so I’m not going to do the play-by-play today; you can check out the full original recipe here.  What I will do is give you a rundown of the few things I did differently along with the tips I have to offer.

Let’s begin!

  • I really didn’t feel like making pie dough with my hands yesterday, so I used my food processor instead.  I put the flour and salt in the smallest bowl of my food processor and pulsed it a few times to mix.  Then, I added the lard and (very cold) butter and pulsed until the mixture resembled coarse meal.  I added the ice water little by little through the food processor tube, pulsing with each addition until the dough came together.  (Try not to overprocess it.)  The recipe called for 1/2 cup of ice water, but I had about 4 teaspoons left when I felt like my dough was moist enough.  I wrapped the dough in plastic and chilled it for a couple of hours in the refrigerator before I rolled it out.
  • I do love this recipe, but some of the language connected to rolling out the dough is unclear.  The first part of the recipe tells you to “roll the dough to a 12-inch round about 1/8-inch thick” and line the pie plate.  Notice that this says “the dough,” not “half of the dough.”  There’s no mention of dividing or halving the dough in either the main recipe or the pie dough recipe.  Halfway through the recipe, though, we’re told to “roll out the remaining dough to a large round.”  What??  I had already lined the pie plate and stuck it in the refrigerator before I realized there was a problem, so I had to pull out the dough, divide it in half, re-roll it, and set the other half aside for later.  Maybe the “remaining dough” is supposed to be the scraps from lining the pie plate, but the recipe doesn’t say anything about trimming excess dough.  Maybe I was supposed to roll out that dough to exactly 1/8 inch and know that anything beyond the 12-inch round was scrap dough.  Who knows?  When I make the pie tomorrow, I’ll just use half in the pie plate and half on top again.
  • I did a rough chop of my apples and I thought the pieces would be small enough, but the apples were still slightly firm in the center of the pie.  Tomorrow, I’m going to cut my apples into thin slices and then cut those slices into thirds.  I think I’m also going to bake my pie for an extra 10 minutes at 300F (and I’ll probably tent it with foil during the extra baking time to prevent it from browning any further).
  • I can’t say I understand why the pie has to go back into the oven after you put the caramel on top.  The heat from the oven just made mine run off of the pie and pool at the crust.  It’s not like the caramel needs to cook any longer, so I’m just going to drizzle mine on the pie next time and let it set while the pie cools.

Caramel Apple Pie

There may be better apple pies out there (like Grandma Ozenbaugh’s pie), but this recipe is definitely the best of my experiments.  The filling was still a bit tart (from the Granny Smith apples, I’m sure), but not overpoweringly so.  It probably helped that this recipe has a bit more sugar in the filling and a little less lemon juice than some of the other recipes I’ve tried.  The amount of cinnamon in the filling was just right, and the pie wasn’t runny at all (thank you, tapioca).  This crust wasn’t as flaky as Martha Stewart’s Perfect Pie Crust, but I actually liked it better.  The flavor and texture were fantastic, and I loved that the pie pieces didn’t collapse into a heap when they were served.  This one’s a keeper!

TIPS:  Don’t forget to put the pie on a rimmed baking sheet before you stick it in the oven.  I had a small amount of filling and caramel bubble over, and I’d rather clean a baking sheet than the oven any day.

Recipe link: Caramel Apple Pie

Chocolate-Pumpkin Tart

Happy blog anniversary to me!  It’s been a terrific two years of discovery in the kitchen.  Many thanks to all of you for your support and for sharing the journey with me.  I’m going to post every day this week as part of the celebration, and look for some visual changes to the site in the next month to mark the start of a new year.  I’d also like to bring back the “request line,” so if there’s something you’d like me to make and post (including baking recipes that might need some high-altitude adjustments) leave the information in a comment on the site or e-mail me at  I can’t wait to hear from you!

Thinking about this time last year, my life was pretty chaotic.  We had just moved back to Denver from Dallas, we were in a new living space, we were adjusting to the demands of my husband’s new practice, we were reconnecting with old friends and making new ones.  It was all pretty overwhelming.  Consequently, there were quite a few recipes I wanted to try last October (especially from the then-current issue of Everyday Food) that I just didn’t get around to making.  Halloween Whoopie Pies was one of the recipes (so yummy!), and Chocolate-Pumpkin Tart (today’s recipe) was another.  The Chocolate-Pumpkin Tart was the inspiration for my last post (How to Make Pumpkin Puree), and I’m happy to report that the tart was well worth the effort on the puree.  Here’s how I made it.

In my Cuisinart Mini-Prep food processor, I pulsed 20 chocolate wafers with 2 tablespoons of sugar until the cookies were finely ground.  I added 3 tablespoons of melted unsalted butter and pulsed until the crumbs were moistened.  Using the bottom of a dry measuring cup, I pressed the crumbs into the bottom (but not the sides) of a 9-inch removable-bottom tart pan.  I placed the tart pan on a rimmed baking sheet and baked it at 350F until it was set (12 minutes).

Meanwhile, I melted 4 ounces of semisweet chocolate in a homemade double boiler.  When the crust came out of the oven, I poured the chocolate over it and carefully spread it to the edges with a spatula.  I transferred the baking sheet (with the tart pan) to the freezer for 5 minutes to set the crust and the chocolate.

While the crust was in the freezer, I whisked together 1 1/2 cups of homemade pumpkin puree (1 1/2 cups of canned is fine too), 1/2 cup of heavy cream, 1/4 cup of packed light-brown sugar, 1/4 cup of pure maple syrup, 1/2 teaspoon of pumpkin-pie spice, and 1/4 teaspoon of table salt to make the filling.  When the crust was ready, I used a pastry brush to brush the sides of the pan with melted butter (to prevent sticking) and then poured the filling into the crust.  I baked the tart on the rimmed baking sheet at 350F until it was set (45 minutes).  I cooled the tart at room temperature for 1 hour, refrigerated it for 1 hour, and then unmolded it to serve.  (Use a knife to loosen the tart if yours sticks a bit; mine did in one tiny spot only.)

Chocolate-Pumpkin Tart

Chocolate-Pumpkin Tart

I’ve seen the homemade pumpkin puree “light,” folks.  It’s amazing!  I mean, I’ve always enjoyed dishes made with canned pumpkin (including this fantastic pasta and countless Thanksgiving pumpkin pies), but the real stuff makes canned pumpkin seem downright gelatinous.  The homemade puree is incredibly smooth and creamy, and that really translates in this dessert.  I was actually worried that I hadn’t cooked my tart quite enough because I left a mark in the center of the tart when I touched it (why did I do that???), but the tart was just that creamy.  It cut perfectly and came out clean when it was time to serve it.

The flavor of the tart was just fantastic, too.  It definitely tastes like pumpkin pie (only better than what I’m used to), and the amount of chocolate in the dish is just right.  I really love the chocolate-on-chocolate layering of the crust.  (I’m guessing Dr. O loved it, too, since he had FOUR SERVINGS of the tart over the course of last night.)

The crust was a little bit on the crumbly side, but that improved overnight as the moisture from the filling sunk in.  I liked it both ways, but you might want to add another 1/2 tablespoon or tablespoon of butter when processing the crust if you want yours to be more dense.

The colors of the dessert are perfect for Halloween, but this would be a welcome contribution to any Thanksgiving table, I imagine.  I know I can’t wait to make it again.

TIPS:  I use Nabisco’s Famous Chocolate Wafers for recipes that require chocolate wafers.  I’ve always been able to find them in the cookie aisles of “normal” grocery stores (in Denver and Dallas, at least).  If you can’t find them or other plain chocolate wafers, I think Oreo cookies with the filling scraped off would work just fine.

Recipe link: Chocolate-Pumpkin Tart

Old-Fashioned Apple Pie

So, I’m wondering how I can disclose a particular bit of information and still maintain my kitchen credibility…

Are you ready?

Until this past Sunday, I had never baked a pie from scratch.


I mean, I’ve baked a million other things from scratch: cakes, tarts, cookies, bread, puff pastry, etc.  In fact, these days, I don’t bake anything that isn’t from scratch.  (Please know, though, that I’m not some uptight baking snob; like I told my friend Laura the other day: “Cake mix and canned frosting sell because they are delicious.”)  I think part of the reason I never got around to it is because I have been with my husband for the past ten years, a time frame that completely encompasses my journey as a cook.  And let me tell you, his grandmother makes amazing pies.  A-mazing.  She’d make a pie for every family gathering (except once, when Dr. O’s cousin’s then-girlfriend helpfully volunteered to make dessert; we were all crushed), and for as delicious as dinner always was, we couldn’t wait for dessert.

Since I’ve been on a roll with doughs these days, I figured it was time for me to at least attempt a pie.  My favorite kind of pie is cherry, but the harvest season and chilly weather made apple an appropriate pick.  Dr. O’s grandmother always said that the key to a flaky, delicious pie crust is to use both butter and shortening, so I decided to use Martha Stewart’s Perfect Pie Crust recipe.  Finally, I liked the sound of the filling in Martha’s Old-Fashioned Apple Pie, so I just subbed the other crust for the pate brisee called for in the recipe.

I used the food processor method to make the crust; if you have extra reserves of arm strength and want to use a pastry blender, the recipe includes instructions for that method as well.

In the smallest bowl of my food processor, I combined 2 cups of all-purpose flour and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  I added 1 1/2 sticks of very cold unsalted butter and 3 tablespoons of chilled vegetable shortening (Crisco), cut into smallish pieces (about a tablespoon each).  Once all of the ingredients were in, I processed the mixture for a few seconds until it resembled coarse meal.  To bring the dough together, I added ice water bit by bit, processing very briefly after each addition (no more than 20 – 30 seconds total).  The recipe calls for 1/4 cup of the ice water, but says the key to light, flaky pastry is to add as little water as possible and to process the dough as little as possible.  I just added water and processed until the dough really started coming together on my food processor blades; I didn’t end up using the entire 1/4 cup.  Once the dough had formed, I wrapped it in plastic wrap and chilled it for an hour.

Peeling, coring, and slicing apples seems to be an eternal task for me, so I decided to use the dough chilling time to get the pie filling ready.  I don’t have one of those crank apple peelers (though I’ll take your reviews if you’ve used one), so I used a vegetable peeler to remove the skin from 4 pounds of Jonathan apples.  I cut each apple in half, cut the halves in half, cut out the core, and then sliced each quarter into 1/4- to 1/2-inch slices.  After throwing all the apple slices into a large bowl, I added 3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, 1/2 cup of sugar, 5 tablespoons of all-purpose flour, 1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon of salt, tossing the mixture to combine.  I covered the filling with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator until I was ready to fill the pie.

Once the dough finished chilling, I lightly floured my clean kitchen counter, divided the dough into two halves, and patted each half into a flat round.  Using a lightly floured rolling pin, I rolled the first half into a 13-inch round (about 1/8-inch thick).  I fit the dough into a 9-inch pie plate (take care not to stretch it) and trimmed the edges of the dough to be flush with the rim.  I placed the crust in the freezer for 30 minutes.

For the second dough half, I placed a large piece of parchment paper on the counter, placed the dough on the parchment, and rolled another 13-inch round.  I placed the parchment (with the dough on it) on a baking sheet and transferred it to the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.

Once the 30 minutes had elapsed, I removed the crust from the freezer, filled it with the apple mixture (see below), and dotted it with 1/2 stick of unsalted butter (cut into 1/2-inch pieces).  I was able to fit almost all of the apple slices into the pie crust, leaving only a few slices behind in the bowl.  I lightly brushed the edges of the pie with a wet pastry brush.

Old-Fashioned Apple Pie Uncovered

Next, I placed the refrigerated dough round over the top of the apples, trimmed the edges, and pressed them to seal.  I have to tell you, I think this would have been easier if I had chosen to use a more traditional pie plate instead of one with extended sides and built-in handles; it was hard to get a good pinch in to crimp the dough.  Live and learn, right?

Anyway, I cut four 1/2-inch slits in the top of the pie for venting, whisked together an egg yolk and 1 tablespoon of heavy cream to make an egg wash, and used my pastry brush to brush the top of the pie with it.  (I didn’t use all of the egg wash.)  I sprinkled the pie with sanding sugar and put it back in the freezer to rest for 30 minutes before baking.

When the resting time was over, I put the pie on a baking sheet and baked it for 20 minutes at 400F.  (Transferring a pie in a glass pie plate directly from the freezer to the oven made me nervous, by the way, but I guess Pyrex is built for it.)  After those first 20 minutes, I dropped the temperature to 350F and baked it until it was golden brown and bubbling.  (The recipe had indicated an additional 35 minutes; mine didn’t seem done until the 45-minute mark, but everything seems to take longer at altitude.)  I removed the pie from the oven and set it on a wire rack to cool.

Whole Old-Fashioned Apple Pie

Ideally, one lets a pie cool to room temperature before cutting it to let things set up properly.  Dr. O and I just couldn’t stand smelling the pie without having a slice in front of us.  I only let it cool for about 45 minutes before cutting it, so it was pretty warm and oozy.  Based on how things set up as it sat, though, I think there’s enough flour in the filling to prevent this from being a runny pie.  Next time, I’ll have to factor in plenty of cooling time (preferably when Dr. O isn’t home) so I’ll know for sure.

Cut Old-Fashioned Apple Pie

It wasn’t quite grandma’s pie, but it was a valiant (and delicious) first attempt, I think.  Maybe things just taste better when grandmothers make them? 🙂  The crust was definitely light and flaky, and I’m a huge fan of the slight crunch the sanding sugar adds to that top layer.  The filling was adequately sweet with just a hint of tartness.  The only thing I’d change is that I’d slice the apples thinner.  They were all tender, but I like mine to be very soft (but not mushy, of course).  Sticking to 1/4-inch slices would probably do it.

From-scratch pie certainly isn’t quick or exceptionally easy, which is probably another reason it took me so long to make one.  Including resting time, the pie took almost 4 hours, and that’s just pulling it out of the oven.  Still, when you think about pre-made crust and canned apple filling as opposed to the real thing, it was absolutely worth it.

TIPS:  You can use any pie-appropriate apples you like with this recipe, of course.  I’ve heard good things about Jonathan, McIntosh, Golden Delicious (preferably from New York), and Cortland apples.  Granny Smiths work well if you like a pie on the tart side.  Feel free to share other favorites!

Recipe link: Perfect Pie Crust and Old-Fashioned Apple Pie

The Daring Kitchen

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