Just Desserts – For the Holidays

‘Life is uncertain so eat dessert first’ –

For some, a dream devoutly to be wished for a fine Holiday dinner – or any dinner – might be to taste all the desserts first and then, only if there is room or interest left, actually have dinner. Cakes, pies, cookies, puddings, cannolis, ruggalahs, trifles, muffins and several creative variations on them only make the temptation to fulfill the dream all the more compelling.

Nonetheless, we will clearly enjoy our way through delicious holiday dinners, with perhaps a clear and discernible anticipation from somewhere heavenly that a final reward awaits at the end, and with it the power to fully complete and cap off the holiday dinner experience.


Carole Mueller, executive chef at RS Jones in Merrick tells Your NewsMag that desserts actually help in the digestive process. “Desserts also provide a boost in energy after a satisfying dinner,” she says.

They are a wonderful way for diners to linger at the dinner table a little longer to keep the conversation and goodwill going into the night – adding coffee or tea and, perhaps, a cordial to the mix.

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Mueller suggests presenting a variety of desserts, so there will be something available for everyone’s palette and taste.  “Offer sweet, sour, even semi-sweet” desserts, she says. Fruits are always a good bet, as are those with chocolate or nuts, “But,” she says, “don’t overdo the chocolate or the nut offerings.”

While Panettone and Sultana cakes are constants during Holiday season, and  are not quite desserts as much as  “durable, long lasting cake/breads,” said Robert Caravello, co-owner of Spiga bakery in Bellmore, they are easily turned into sumptuous bread puddings by combining cream, vanilla and butter all whipped into a frenzy and poured and mixed into the bread.

Or take a trifle, a once-classic layered dessert for the upper-crust English that brags of several different recipes in which to make it. But, in a pinch it can be made quickly and to great effect. Simply take a large, round glass trifle dessert bowl and add sponge cake as the bottom layer – round dessert shells available at your favorite supermarket bakery shelf will do.

Next, place a thin layer of vanilla custard spread all atop the sponge cake. Vanilla pudding will do fine, but try reduced sugar or sugar-free pudding for those watching their weight. Next, put fresh fruit atop the pudding and cake. For some reason raspberries are equated with trifle, so maintain a raspberry theme by, for instance, spreading a liberal amount of fresh raspberries on top of the vanilla, and perhaps moistening the dry sponge cake with a drizzle of raspberry syrup.

Top off the fruit with a liberal amount of fresh whipped cream, either homemade or from a can. Whipped cream out of a plastic tub will change the desired flavor of the end result, considerably. The placement of all items must be somewhat uniform, of course, to create perceptible and stable layers that will show through the glass dessert bowl – for presentation and desirability.

Then start again, placing sponge cake over the whipped cream and placing another layer of pudding before adding fresh fruit – blueberries, strawberries or peaches and pears, atop the cake and pudding. Canned fruit can be substituted when fresh fruit is not available, but use reduced sugar fruit. The low-calorie syrup can be used to drizzle onto the sponge cake to help provide moisture.

Following these steps on layering should result in filling up the entire trifle bowl.

How the top of the trifle is finished is up to the one who made it: thin shortbread wafers, mint, a single strawberry, nuts?  All the ingredients will blend and settle to provide a satisfying end to a scrumptious dinner.

Caravallo says struffolis, honey balls made of deep-fried hand-rolled dough coated with honey and nuts similar to Jewish desserts during Holiday seasons, are popular desserts, along with fig cookies and ginger bread cookies, and any cookies made of nutmeg, cloves and spices.  Butter cookies, he says, are soft and cakey, and usually topped off with sprinkles and nuts.

The following are recipes provided by the Merrick Girls Weekday Recipe facebook page to get you started on an adventure in Holiday dessert preparations. Have fun!

Jennifer Vitiello McDermott

Italian Wedding Cookies

350-degree oven
1 cup ( 2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup finely chopped pecans
Beat butter, both sugars and vanilla in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Gradually add flour and pecans, stirring until well blended. Ok to use hands now if easier for you. Shape into one-inch balls and place on parchment lined baking sheets.
Bake approx. 15-20 minutes, until tops firm. Gently check underneath the cookie. It should be a little gold. Remove or will burn quickly. Cool 5 minutes and coat with confectioner sugar.

Agata Virzì‎
Peanut Butter Blossoms

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 eggs
3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
Additional granulated sugar (about 2 tablespoons)
About 7 dozen Hershey’s® Kisses® Brand milk chocolates.

Heat oven to 375°F. In large bowl, beat ½-cup granulated sugar, the brown sugar, peanut butter, butter and eggs with electric mixer on medium speed, or mix with spoon.  Stir in flour, baking soda and baking powder. Shape dough into 1-inch balls; roll in additional granulated sugar. Place about two inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are light brown. Immediately press one chocolate candy in center of each cookie. Remove from cookie sheet to wire rack.

Loretta Saccente Hamann

1 cup softened butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 egg
1 tsp. baking powder
3 cups flour

Cream butter and sugar. Add extracts and egg. Combine dry ingredients and add to wet. The dough is very stiff, if you don’t have a stand mixer you might have to incorporate some by hand. Roll on floured surface, slightly thick (1/4-inch) Bake 6-8 minutes, depending on how big you make cookies. If you want a softer cookie, don’t allow them to get color. Bake on parchment lined sheets. FYI, best to use light color baking sheets!
CK meringue powder 1/4 cup
1/2 cup cold water
4 cups  sifted 10x

Beat until stiff peaks. No airbrush, I dusted the centers with pink luster dust. I use royal to do all the detail work but the cookies are first covered in a glaze. Don’t have a recipe, just confectioners sigar (10x) mixed with water, clear Karo syrup and a little white food color for depth .

Bonnie Harary Millman

Three 8” x 8” square pans

1 small jar of seedless raspberry jam

4 eggs

2 sticks of butter, slightly salted

1 tsp. almond extract

1 cup sugar

1 cup flour

½ cup almond paste (tube)

8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted

rainbow cookies

Mix together all ingredients in a mixer, except food coloring, chips and jam. Blend until almond paste is smooth. Next, divide batter into three bowls, and add a few drops of food coloring into each bowl. Spray the three pans with spam, and pour batter into each pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes until slightly browned. Place wax paper on three plates. Allow to cool. Spread jam and stack layers. Cover wax paper and book to hold together. Refrigerate. Melt chocolate chips and spread on both sides.

by Pieces Stacey Janet

One trifle bowl, two boxes of low-fat Entenmann’s marble cake, two boxes of jello chocolate instant pudding, two small lite cool whip, two Hershey symphony bars with toffee and almonds. Make the pudding according to directions, add two tblsp of cool whip defrosted. In a ziploc crumble the two cakes. In another ziplock put in both candy bars and use a can to crush it. In bowl, layer cake, pudding, cool whip and crumbled candy bar, then relayer rest of cake: layer of pudding, layer of cool whip, the candy bar ( you will have left overs of each so I put in cups) cover refrigerate overnight. It’s a sure hit!!!! Enjoy

Bonnie Weser

Nestle Toll House chocolate Chip Pie  (Makes 8 servings)
1 unbaked 9-inch (4-cup volume) deep-dish pie shell
2 large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup (6 ounces) NESTLE TOLL HOUSE semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 cup chopped nuts
sweetened whipped cream or ice cream (optional)

*If using forzen pie shell, use deep-dish style, thawed completely.
Bake on baking sheet; increase baking time slightly.
Preheat oven to 325
Beat eggs in large mixer bowl on high speed until foamy. Beat in flour, granulated sugar and brown sugar. Beat in butter. Stir in morsels and nuts. Spoon into pie shell.
Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until knife inserted halfway between outside edge and center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack. Serve warm with whipped cream.

Adrienne Janowitz Ross
Apple Rose

4 apples, cored and halved (leave the skin on)
Juice from 1/2 lemon
3 Tbsp fruit preserves ( I used apricot but you can use your favorite fruit)
2 Tbsp water (plus more for apple soak)
1 sheet of puff pastry
Cinnamon, to taste

Preheat Oven to 375 degrees.  Put apple slices in microwave safe bowl. Fill bowl with water and juice from half a lemon. Use enough water to make sure apple slices are covered by water. Microwave for 3 minutes. This will soften the apple slices and make them more pliable for rolling up. Next, grab a sheet of puff pastry. Flour your board and roll out the puff pastry enough to make 6 strips at 3 inches wide. I scored and cut mine with a pizza wheel put you can use a knife. In a bowl mix your favorite fruit preserves with a couple tablespoons of water. Then spoon out the preserves in the center of the strip of puff pastry.


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