‘It’s season – already! But be sure to slow down and embrace the last of the fall harvest by offering both fall and winter mood on one dessert menu. Picture autumn leaves cookies next to candy canes. November is the month to relax in holiday fun. And it does not have to be complicated to help your customers get in the mood, even if no one prevents you from reaching out for the stars with a croquembouche or yule log …
At the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, executive pastry chef Carolina Hock sums it up nicely: “Holiday desserts can be magical without the hassle,” she says. “Everyone can use their creativity to make these desserts their own.”
Photo: Sugar flower fairies dance in the confectioner’s heads, big time, with these cakes by Aramark at Slipper Rock University.
Pumpkin, meet Santa
American Dining Creations’ Corporate Chef-West Jonathan Pye has merged the seasons in some very fun ways. His Thanksgiving / autumn desserts include blood orange creme brulee, a glass of pumpkin pie and chocolate spice cakes. A crack-your-own-chocolate-bark adds some practical fun to special occasions. And he gets ready for Santa with adorable “milk (shake) and cookies”, a grab-and-go treat that evokes the excitement of Christmas Eve. “And just because I’m from England,” says Pye, “I make traditional minced pies. We leave them out to Santa over the pond.” [Editor’s note: Stay tuned for our savory holiday brunch feature next month!]
Smart and economical varieties of bread pudding
Bread pudding is a classic holiday dessert Charles Dickens would recognize – and probably consume. Loyola Marymount University’s Sodexo Executive Chef Joshua Hoffenberg came up with his signature “Remains of bread pudding with brandy cream Anglaise” as he relaxed with his family after a big holiday brunch.
“When we were all done eating and I was cleaning the kitchen [editor’s note: Good man!], I realized that there were so many unused croissants and cakes left over, ”says Hoffenberg. “One thing I hate is that the food is wasted, so I thought, what a treat …”
He tore all the cakes to pieces, soaked them in milk, eggs, vanilla bean and brandy, then added chocolate and sugar, baked it and whipped the brandy cream up to the top. “It’s a decadent dessert full of flavor, color and amazing texture that brings back the feeling of family comfort and togetherness.”
A sweet treat on panzanella (remnants of bread salad) is Sodexo chef David Morales’ holiday hack. Morales, senior area chef for Northeast and co-chef for Inside Park in St. Morales. Barts in New York City, incorporates poached pears into bread pudding and then tops it off with chocolate chips and plates with a little flair for squeeze bottles.
Another seductive bread dessert: Norwegian Christmas cake or Christmas cake, a yeast bread resembling brioche, flavored with caraway mum, orange peel and dried fruit, garnished with a glaze and almonds sliced by Aramark chef David Thornton at Bentonville Public Schools.
Photo: Duke Dining’s yule log is a stump that stops!
“Log in” for an impressive dessert
The Christmas stick – rolled cake with frosting scraped up to look like bark – is a retro-fabulous Christmas gift that deserves the highest cake stand. At Duke University’s Café in Brodhead Center, a place run by local bakers, chef Lee Whitsel makes some amazing craftsmanship and makes a yule log right out of Santa’s workshop with pistachio “moss”, “mushroom hats” and a sprig of rosemary. The café also offers desserts that you can grab, e.g. pecan pie bars, pumpkin cheesecake bars. Either way, “every bite feels like a piece of home,” Whitsel says.
At Slippery Rock University, Aramark confectioner Mandi Nickl fires up the Christmas tree with spicy cake filled with pear buttercream and garnished with cranberry meringue, rosemary caramel, candied cranberries, meringue mushrooms and rosemary sprigs (we sense a rosemary theme here!) Nickl and campus gingerbread, a very fun sugar plum cake in a beautiful winter blue color and a sugar plum mousse bomb filled with eggnog cream brulee.
How we roll (pumpkin).
Yule log’s down-home, cream cheese-like cousin, the pumpkin roll, is another great way to roll into the season. At Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., Sodexo pastry chef Naomi Cottos’ spicy pumpkin roll is sliced to reveal the cream cheese and garnished with fall colors for a sophisticated dish.
Another cool pumpkin roll is made for catering at Goose Creek CISD by Aramark Chef Manager Franchesca Bland “You can not go wrong when you combine cream cheese and pumpkin,” she says, calling the pumpkin roll “easy to make but hard to walk away from. The sweet combination of pumpkin and cream cheese will get you ready to decorate the halls! ”
At UNC Wilmington, pumpkin roll is a signature dish for Aramark baker Peggy Powell, who has been baking there for 20 years. She has made many different rolls over the years and along the way learned how to make a gluten-free version of pumpkin roll. Either way, “it’s a taste of fall and a taste that brings home a memory of many students,” Powell says.
Desserts that honor the big guy are a sure way to smile and photograph for your customers. Aramark Executive Chef Alicia Rivera at Lewisville ISD makes a sweet potato cake with five spices for catering that is a masterpiece from fall to winter, sprinkled with pumpkin seeds and topped with berry-wine-poached pears that give the look of a happy old Santa hat.
Also at Lewisville ISD, the team gets the best out of the very last of the peach season with a peach-cranberry cobbler on its head with a bourbon sauce, also for catering.
Since the 19th century, croquembouche has been known as a slightly … complicated … and exaggerated kind of dessert derived from super-fancy Parisian banquets. It is puff pastry balls attached to a cone shape with an intricate lace of sugar. The decoration is then up to the chef.
If you feel like trying this, grab a signal from Morrison Healthcare Senior Executive Chef Josh Nowell from Atrium Health Navient Macon and give it a pumpkin twist for fall-into-winter. Nowell and his wife are both trained pastry chefs with a strong background in classic French techniques. Christmas is a time when they really strut their stuff, he says.
“We like to try new things every year around the holidays. We found this croquembouche recipe last year and my kids and family were excited about it,” he says. “It’s a little croquembouche filled with pumpkin cream, and every single one is dipped in green-colored white chocolate. “Sprinkles and icing complete the new classic.
And Carolina Hock from UNC-Chapel Hill kicks off the season with so many Santa-worthy treats: sponge cake-buttercream-Christmas trees with fondant stars and sprinkles; snickerdoodle blondie reindeer topped with cinnamon, sugar, pretzels and such; and holiday brownie pops with royal icing and sprinkles.