Desserts for the season
Photographed and styled EUGENIA UHL
If your Christmas dinner is at midday like ours, finding room for dessert is never easy. Because our family loves to make showy, mouth-watering finales for the big day, we simply save our sweets for dinner time. Then you can fully enjoy every fattening, delicious morsel when it doesn’t have to compete with turkey or tenderloin and a buffet of sides.
All grandchildren love cheesecake, and my friend Barbara’s New York cheesecake is the best. This time I’m crowning it with a praline sauce to bring it closer to home.
We don’t know anyone who doesn’t like chocolate, and this three-layer chocolate cake isn’t as daunting as you might think. Filled with raspberry sauce, it’s blanketed with ganache and ornamented with raspberries on top. I use three disposable cake pans and make the cake a day ahead.
For lemon lovers, a tart filled with lemon curd never fails to please. All of these recipes can be made a day ahead and refrigerated, leaving time for a relaxing, fun-filled Christmas Day. They also make nice take-alongs or showcase desserts for a party any time during the holidays.
Snow-Swept Lemon Tart
A 9-inch tart pastry, homemade or store-bought refrigerated pie crust
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
1 ½ cups lemon juice
2 Tablespoons freshly grated lemon zest
Pinch of salt
5 eggs, whisked until mixed
Topping: Confectioners’ sugar
Roll pastry to 1/8-inch thickness. Place in a 9-inch tart pan, pressing sides into flutes and trimming around the top. Fork holes in the crust and sides about 1-inch apart. Place a piece of tin foil or parchment paper on the bottom of and partly up the sides of the crust, and cover with pie weights or 2 cups of dried beans. Place in a 400-degree oven, or at the temperature recommended if using a store-bought refrigerated pie crust, and bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool pastry before filling.
Curd: Melt butter in the top of a double boiler over medium heat. Remove pot from heat and whisk in sugar, lemon juice, zest and salt. Whisk in eggs gradually until smooth. Return pot to medium heat and whisk or stir constantly until mixture thickens. Continue to cook for about 15 minutes, whisking occasionally. Pour mixture though a medal strainer into a bowl. When cool, pour into pie crust.
To serve: Cover the curd with a sprinkling of confectioners’ sugar. For best results, use a hand sifter to distribute sugar evenly.
Optional decorations: Whipped cream around the edges of tart; dollops of whipped cream over the face of the tart with berries placed on top of the whipped cream.
Cheesecake With Praline Sauce
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs, about 27 graham crackers
6 Tablespoons butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Juice of ½ lemon
1 cup chopped pecans, roasted
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 Tablespoon praline liqueur
Grease or spray an 8- or 9-inch springform pan. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Crust: Place graham crackers in a food processor and process until finely crumbled. Combine butter and sugar in a medium bowl. Add graham cracker crumbs and cinnamon, and stir until completely mixed. Spread on the bottom and 1-inch up the sides of the pan, pressing down with a spoon.
Filling: Place all ingredients in an electric mixer and beat on high speed for 5 minutes. Pour filling in crust. Bake for 35 minutes. Cool and refrigerate.
Topping: Roast pecans on a cookie sheet in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes or until beginning to brown and smelling fragrant. In a small heavy saucepan stir together the cornstarch and water. When thoroughly mixed, add the brown sugar and corn syrup, and bring the mixture barely to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until thickened, about 5 minutes.
Add pecans and praline liqueur. Cool completely and pour over chilled cheesecake.
Raspberry-Filled Chocolate Layer Cake
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups self-rising flour
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 stick plus 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 extra-large eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup milk
1 12-ounce package frozen raspberries, thawed
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
3 Tablespoons water
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 cup sugar
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate such as Ghirardelli
1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup heavy cream
1 ½ teaspoons cognac or brandy
Cake: Sift cocoa into a bowl. Add ½-cup boiling water and mix well to form a paste. Cool.
Sift flour, salt and baking powder. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter and flour three 8-inch cake pans.
Whip butter in an electric mixer. Gradually beat in sugar, then 1 egg at a time and then vanilla extract. Gradually mix in the cooled cocoa, followed by alternating additions of flour mixture and milk. When mixed well, pour evenly into 3 pans and bake 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cakes comes out clean. Place on wire racks for 5 minutes in the pans. Run a knife around edges of pans, invert cakes onto wire racks and cool.
Filling: Place berries and juice into a small saucepan, reserving several whole berries for garnish. Mix water and cornstarch in a bowl and add to saucepan. Add sugar and mix well. Add lemon juice and berries and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring. Cook until mixture thickens, about 3 minutes. Cool before spreading.
Ganache: Break chocolate into the bowl of a food processor. Process until very fine. Heat cream to boiling point and gradually pour cream through the feed tube with the processor running. Continue for several seconds until very smooth. Pour into a bowl and cool completely. Gently stir in cognac or brandy.
To complete: Cover the first two layers with filling, adding a spoonful to reserved berries. Spread ganache on top and sides, either dripping over sides or covered completely. Garnish with reserved berries. Refrigerate.
Serves 8 to 10