Happy holiday endings
Tis the season for sweets! Christmas cookies, candy canes, chocolates and holiday dessert spreads are as ubiquitous as Bing Crosby this time of year. Sadly, many of those desserts are not as exciting — or as flavorful — as one might hope. Why make plain sugar cookies when you can just as easily whip up sea salt caramels, dark chocolate truffles, or cherry almond biscotti?
Here are a few more “creative” recipes for your next holiday party or dessert course. Note that these recipes were created specifically for my Actively Northwest post on healthy holiday desserts, but despite their healthful claim, all of these are proven to be even more delightful and delicious than your standard sugar cookie.
Cherry Almond Biscotti
My Mom and I make biscotti every year, and we take a certain amount of creative liberty in our additions. Cornmeal-cherry-pecan, and lavender-orange-almond were made in years’ past. But sometimes simple is better, as is the case for these cherry-almond biscotti. We’ve also played with butter vs. no butter; whole eggs vs. egg whites; flour vs. almond meal. In the end, we’ve settled on this recipe, which is crunchy without being too hard, and tender yet sturdy enough to dunk in tea.
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled)
- 1 cup almond meal (if unavailable, use all regular flour. You can also make your own almond meal by grinding raw almonds in a food processor until finely ground)
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
- 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
- 1 cup almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
- 1 cup dried cherries, coarsely chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, almond flour, baking powder, and salt. Using an electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in extracts. Turn to low, and mix in flour until just combined. Using a wooden spoon, stir in almonds and cherries.
Divide dough in half and transfer to a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Form each half into a 2 1/2-inch-wide, 3/4-inch-tall log. Bake until dough is firm but gives slightly when pressed, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through. Let cool on sheet on a wire rack, 20 minutes.
With a serrated knife, cut logs into 1/4-inch slices on the diagonal and arrange, cut side down, on two parchment-lined rimmed baking sheets. Bake until biscotti are crisp and golden, about 15 minutes, rotating sheets and flipping biscotti halfway through. Let cool on sheets on wire racks
This has been my go-to birthday cake for as long as I can remember. Much lighter than a traditional cream cheese & sour cream cheese cake, this cake highlights the sweetness of fresh ricotta, one of my favorite cheeses. Find good quality, fresh ricotta, and feel free to experiment with different flavor additions (we added orange flower water & orange zest one year, lavender another time…). For chocolate lovers, you can drizzle with a dark chocolate sauce and top with toasted almonds or hazelnuts for a more decadent dessert.
- 2 15-ounce containers ricotta cheese (Whole or part-skim; do not use nonfat)
- 3 large eggs
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup unbleached white flour
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan, and dust it lightly with flour.
- Place the ricotta, eggs, sugar, flour, vanilla and almond extracts, salt, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a good processor and whip everything together until smooth. (You can also beat the mixture with an electric mixer or by hand, in a large bowl.)
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and spread it into place.
- Bake in the middle of the oven for 50 minutes, or until it feels solid when pressed lightly in the center. Cool completely before serving, then cover tightly with plastic wrap, and chill until cold.
- Serve with berries, a fruit compote, or drizzle with chocolate sauce and sprinkle with toasted almonds or hazelnuts
Cranberry Cornmeal Upside Down Cake with Honey Orange Cream
A lightened version of the traditional pineapple upside down cake, cornmeal adds a layer of flavor, cranberries give it a holiday flair and a “cheat” crema made with greek yogurt, honey and orange gilds the lily.
Pic courtesy land o lakes
- 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 6 ounces fresh cranberries
- 1 + 1/3 cup flour
- 1/3 cup fine cornmeal
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup applesauce
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup low-fat milk
- 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 3 tablespoons honey
- Juice and zest from one orange
Preheat oven to 350°.
Spray a 9-inch round cake pan very thoroughly with cooking spray. Heat brown sugar and 2 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook 2 minutes or until butter melts and sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. Pour sugar mixture into prepared cake pan, tilting pan to coat bottom evenly. Arrange cranberries evenly over sugar mixture.
Combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt; stir with a whisk. Beat together butter, oil, applesauce and sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed until well incorporated. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Fold flour mixture into sugar mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture.
Spoon the batter over the cranberries, spreading evenly. Bake at 350° for 55 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted into center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in pan 15 minutes on a wire rack. Loosen cake from sides of pan using a narrow metal spatula. Place a serving plate upside down on top of cake, and invert the cake pan onto the plate. Let stand 5 minutes, and remove the pan.
Wisk together yogurt, honey and orange juice and zest. Serve cake warm, wtih a dollop of honey orange crema.
Decadent chocolate “Cappuccino” Puddings
This recipe couldn’t be easier or more delicious. A chocolate-y, mocha pudding to satisfy every chocoholic’s cravings, it can easily be made ahead and refrigerated. To make the pudding into “cappuccinos,” serve in individual demitasse cups, dolloped with homemade whipped cream (the “foam” on the espresso) and a few shaves of chocolate.
pic courtesy thelittleloaf.com
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 Tablespoon instant espresso powder (or Starbucks Via “instant coffee” packet)
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 3 cups 2% milk
- 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Wisk together the cornstarch, sugar, espresso powder and salt in a medium saucepan, then slowly whisk in a bit of milk, being careful to wisk thoroughly so the cornstarch doesn’t clump, then add the remaining milk, while continuing to wisk, until thoroughly incorporated. Turn heat to medium-low and stir with a heat-proof spatula every few minutes, being sure to scrape the bottom and sides. After 10-15 minutes the mixture should start to thicken, enough that it will coat the back of a spoon. Add the chocolate and vanilla, and continue stirring for another 2-3 minutes, until chocolate is fully incorporated and mixture is quite thick.
Distribute among individual cups or one large serving bowl and chill 2 to 3 hours.
Serve with freshly whipped cream and shaves of dark chocolate (made by using a vegetable peeler to shave strips from a chocolate bar).
For those who love custards, puddings and pumpkin pie, this will be your new favorite dessert. Flan is a traditional Latin dish, very similar to the french creme caramel. An egg and milk custard is baked on a pool of caramelized sugar, which is inverted before serving to produce a golden veil of caramel sauce over a silky custard ring. The addition of pumpkin transforms this dessert into a delightfully silky cousin of pumpkin pie in which caramel sauce stands in for the traditional pastry crust. A sure crowd pleaser.
pic courtesy S. Parga
- 1 cup granulated sugar, divided in half
- 2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
- 2 teaspoons orange zest (use an organic orange for this)
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (you can substitute 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, but the real vanilla bean imparts incredible flavor)
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup pumpkin puree
- 3 cups milk (low-fat or whole)
- 5 large eggs, beaten
Preheat the oven to 350-degrees
Put 1/2 cup sugar in a 9-inch cake pan or pie plate, set on the center rack in the oven, and bake until the sugar is caramel colored, 8 to 12 minutes. Swirl to cover the bottom of the pie plate with the caramel.
In a medium saucepan, heat the milk, cinnamon sticks, orange zest and vanilla bean slowly over medium heat, until it comes to a low simmer, stirring often. Turn to low, and continue to simmer until milk is reduced by half (about 20 minutes), continuing to stir often to prevent milk from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat, and strain into a large bowl, removing cinnamon and vanilla beans. Wisk in pumpkin puree, remaining half cup sugar and salt until thoroughly combined. In a separate bowl, wisk together eggs. Add a ladle full (approx 1/2 cup) of the warm milk mixture to the bowl of eggs and stir together to warm the eggs (adding cold eggs to the hot milk can scramble the eggs). Slowly wisk in the egg mixture back into the bowl of pumpkin-milk.
Set the pie plate in a large roasting pan (with sides at least 2-inches high) and pour the custard into the pie plate over the caramel. Carefully pour enough hot tap water into the roasting pan to reach halfway up the sides of the pie plate.
Bake 1 hour 20 minutes, until the custard is set. Cool and chill in the refrigerator.
To serve, run a knife around the outside edge of the flan and place a rimmed serving plate on top. Holding the serving plate securely on top of the pie plate, quickly flip over to invert the flan onto the serving plate. Cut into wedges to serve.