Holiday dessert recipes

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

The winter holidays are a baker’s dream, an excuse to pull out all the stops. This time of year we have the perfect excuse to make that decadent red velvet cake that we might not bake on a Tuesday night in June, with plenty of holiday revelers, hosts, friends and family to please.

Besides pies and cheesecakes – classic New York style or light with ricotta (alla Italiana) – there’s an endless list of holiday-appropriate sweets, from bread pudding, French bûche de Noël (Yule log), Italian tiramisu or panettone to English plum pudding with hard sauce.

I love the zillion variations of the trifle: an ancient sweet, also of British provenance, with layers of cake laced with spirits, fruit and custard. When I spent a few months in Dublin as a child, the English landlady would give us unforgettable ones that she made from crabapples from the garden. Although they can be a bit of a project, they are deliciously worth it.

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In my own kitchen, when it comes to holiday desserts I tend not to veer too far from the traditional. My preference is for classics with a bit of a twist. Pecan has to be my favorite holiday pie: so sweet that it almost hurts, and rich with my favorite nut. Even better is my julep-themed version, spiked with bourbon and mint, which raises the decadence factor a few notches.

Bourbon Pecan Pie with Julep Whipped Cream

The pie is also great with mint chocolate chip ice cream on the side to stand in for the mint-spiked whipped cream topping.

Makes one nine-inch pie.

For piecrust:
¼ cup unsalted butter (1/2 stick), softened to room temperature
¼ cup shortening, at room temperature
1 ½ cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ cup ice water

For pie filling and topping:
3 large eggs
1 cup dark brown sugar
¾ cup dark corn syrup
¼ cup butter, melted
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons bourbon, divided
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups pecan halves
1 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ teaspoon peppermint flavoring
Fresh mint sprig to garnish (optional)

To make piecrust:

Blend butter and shortening and chill until firm. In a medium bowl, mix flour, salt and sugar. Add the chilled shortening/butter mixture in pieces and work quickly with your fingers until lumps shrink to pea size. Add just enough water to make the mixture hold together; it will still be somewhat crumbly. Pat it together to make a flattish disc, wrap in plastic wrap or wax paper and chill for half an hour.

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