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Seeking inspiration for fancy Thanksgiving dessert

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I’ve scoured Epicurious, poured through The Cake Bible, but still have a mental block!

I’m trying to come up with a festive, beautiful, memorable, and of course delicious dessert that fits within the following parameters:

--starters and entrée will be heavy, e.g., beef, red wine (this is an alternative Thanksgiving dinner) so I don’t want something super heavy. Intensely flavored is fine and appropriate, but a big chocolate cake with buttercream, for example, would not sit well.

--I’ll be bringing this to someone else’s home, so a frozen confection or something requiring lots of last minute preparation would not be optimal. I can expect some, but not a lot, of prep, oven, fridge, or freezer space.

--I’m not into using out-of-season fruit and have a preference for autumnal/winter flavors.

--I don’t want something simple, like a beautifully poached pear or a rustic crisp. As nice as that would be, I want a WOW! dessert. I’m a reasonably experienced baker, so complicated is okay.

Thanks in advance.

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  1. I don't have the recipe with me but I've done a dark chocolate cranberry tart from an old Sunset mag holiday issue. It presents beautifully, is unexpected and tastes delicious. I will try to pull out the mag tonight and submit the recipe. You'll be in for a treat.

    1 Reply
    1. re: twistyhair

      Sorry for the delay. It took me a while to find the recipe which was from Bon Appetit not Sunset. It's for Chocolate Tart with Candied Cranberries. The recipe looks long, but the crust was the only thing that was even slightly challenging to make, the rest is a breeze. My guests said it was delicious. It looks absolutely beautiful on a pedestal server. Hope you get a chance to try. twistyhair@hotmail.com - if you have any questions.

      Crust: 1 2/3 C. all-purpose flour
      2 T. Sugar
      1/4 tsp. Salt
      10 T. Chilled, unsalted butter cut into 1/2 inch pieces
      3 T. ice water (about)
      1 large egg yolk
      1 tsp. Vanilla

      Filling: 1/2 c. whipping cream
      8 oza. bitter or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
      3 T. creme de cassis

      Candied Cranberries: 1 1/2 12 oz. pkgs frozen cranberries, unthawed
      1 c. sugar
      Nonstick vegetable oil spray

      For Crust: Blend flour, sugar and salt in processor. Add butter and cut in , using on/off turns, until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 2 1/2 tblsp water, egg yolk and vanilla. Blend until moist clumps form, adding mor water by 1/2 tblsps if dry. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic; chill at least 2 hours. (Can be made up to 2 days ahead. Soften slightly before rolling out).
      Preheat oven to 375. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to 13- 14-ionch round. Transfer dough to 9 inch tart pan with removable bottom. Cut dough overhang to 3/4 inch; fold overhang in and press, forming sides that extend 1/4 inch above top of pan. Pierce crust all over with fork. Freeze 15 minutes.

      Bake crust 15 minutes. If sides of crust fall, press up with back of fork. Bake crust until beginning to brown, about 15 min. longer. Cool on rack.

      For Filling: Bring cream to simmer in heavy medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chocolate and whisk until smooth; whisk in liquer. Pour filling into crust. Refrigerate until filling is firm, at least 2 hrs and up to 1 day.

      For Candied Cranberries: Preheat oven to 375. Spray rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Toss cranberries and sugar in medium bowl to blend. Spread mixture on baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes. Using metal spatula, stir berries gently. Bake until berries are thawed and most sugar is dissolved, about 5 min. longer. Cool on sheet 5 minutes. Spoons berries atop filling; drizzle with syrup from sheet. Chill 1 hour. (Can be made 1 day ahead; keep chilled).

    2. I brought this to someone's home (out of state) for Thanksgiving last year. I made it the day before, chilled it overnight and then transported it in a cake carrier Thanksgiving morning. It held up well to a 5-hour car trip and was delicious served at room temp. It also looks very impressive and tasted delicious.

      Link: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/rec...

      2 Replies
      1. re: Buttercup

        I noticed all the discussion on Epicurious about the icing being runny/difficult to get right.

        What was your experience with the icing? I've never done anything quite like that recipe.

        1. re: eel

          As best I can recall (it's been a year), I needed to cool the icing a bit more than called for in the recipe, as it was still pretty hot after ten minutes. I don't remember exactly how long I cooled it but it was warm--not hot. At that point it was thin enough to spread but thick enough to stay put.

      2. This caramel nut tart from Gourmet is amazing. I seem to recall that the original recipe only called for walnuts, not pecans, but this version sounds pretty wonderful as well. It transports easily, doesn't take long to make, and it's an all around winner.

        Link: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/rec...

        1. If you want to do twists on traditional, I did these 2 pies last year -- apple pie with cranberry, really cuts the sweet/blandness of apples, and the bourbon orange pecan pie-- the orange adds a great new dimension to the sweetness of pecan pie.

          http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/rec...

          http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/rec...

          1. I wrote up a trial run of 4 desserts. The first or last might work for you. The maple pumpkin pot au creme was really good but might not give you the WOW factor that a more difficult dessert might have.

            Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

            1. Here's a twist on the traditional that I posted a few days ago.

              Chesnut Squash Pie

              Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

              1. Something I've done a couple of years for Thanksgiving is a Tarte Tatin. It's a nice variation on apple pie. The trick I discovered and use now to make it ahead and transport is to flip it out of the cast iron pan when it is done, wipe out the pan, line it with foil, put a buttered round piece of parchment paper inside the pan on top of the foil, and then return the tarte to the pan. That way, the crust remains on top and does not get soggy, and the tarte is easy to heat up a bit in the oven before serving. Great with vanilla ice cream and/or creme fraiche.

                I make it from Julia Child's recipe in "The Way to Cook".

                Good luck ...

                1. c
                  Caitlin Wheeler

                  This recipe for pumpkin chocolate tart appeared in Martha Stewart Living a couple of years ago -- it's a twist on pumpkin pie, but with the drizzled chocolate on top it looks very fancy. The flavors are very autumnal -- pumpkin, chocolate, and spices, and it really is beautiful.

                  Link: http://www.livejournal.com/users/amus...

                  Image: http://communitycampaign.uaa.alaska.e...

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Caitlin Wheeler

                    I second this recipe! It looks impressive but has the familiar and comfortable flavors of the holiday. Sometimes when I try to get too "creative," it backfires and then I wish I had made a warm, homey apple crisp instead.

                  2. How about the Guiness Stout Cake everyone is raving about? If you make it in a really striking bundt pan and serve with some ice cream, I'm sure you'll get a lot of wows. Also, if you can get your hands on Claudia Fleming's book The Last Course (from which the recipe originates) there are a lot of wow desserts and ice cream recipes. Plus she has a section on composed desserts, they might not suit your needs per se but it has some good ideas you can incoporate.

                    1. I think someone mentioned this earlier in another post. It sounded really good.

                      Maple Pumpkin Pots De Creme.

                      If you don't have enough serving dishes for it, I think you can make them in the tin foil baking cups and then put a more festive cupcake paper over the cup after baking. I saw some Thanksgiving paper cupcake cups at Ralph's grocery store.

                      You can even dress it up a little more by putting a few leaf shaped cut-outs of pie crust. Maybe sprinkle them with cinnamon sugar. Just bake them up separately and place them in the center of each "pot" or on top of a dollop of whipped cream.

                      And, can you transport them on baking sheets stacked inside a cooler?

                      Alternatively, what about a spicy pumpkin mousse inside a pate a choux and drizzled with a maple glaze?
                      See recipe for protiferols at http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recip... and just edit it to use mousse instead of ice cream. The first two direction paragraphs is the dough for the pate a chouxs. Not all listed ingredients are for the pate a choux dough.

                      It would be a pumpkin maple eclair.

                      Link: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/rec...

                      1. Last year for Thanksgiving I made a delicious and really elegant-looking (IMHO) pecan tart with a subtle maple flavor. It cut cleanly into gorgeous slices. It was not overly sweet like pecan pie can be. I mixed and matched recipes, using the "nut tart" filling from Kimball's "The Dessert Bible" and the sweet tart pastry dough from one of the America's Test Kitchen cookbooks. I made a ton of notes because it took me 3 test bakes to get it really right. It was one of the best things I have ever baked. If you are interested, then e-mail me privately and I will write the recipe out for you. It would be extremely detailed.

                        1. Good ideas all! Thanks very much.

                          I'm currently torn between MAPLE CREME FLAN WITH MAPLE-GLAZED PEARS and MAPLE PUMPKIN POTS DE CREME.

                          Hard to go wrong here!